Monday, December 29, 2014

Top 5 Writing Celebrations of 2014

Writing...reflecting...looking deep, 
all under the watchful eye of MJ

         A year-end is, of course, a wonderful time for reflection and goal-setting. Looking back on my year in writing, I am very happy with my progress. Though I say I've been writing seriously for about 4 years, 2014 was when I got REALLY serious. I put myself out there more than ever, and bumped writing up on my list of free-time activities, knocking out a few of my other favorite pastimes (apologies to my neglected piano as well as anyone expecting a homemade birthday or holiday card). Here, my top 5 celebrations in writing from the year: 

5. Connecting. Just like many industries, writing is about much more than just writing. I won't say it's ALL about who you know, but it sure doesn't hurt to know some people. Since my teaching profession actually does not involve a ton of networking, this is new to me. For a while I hovered with my toes just inside the line of the writing community, but this year I stepped in (yeah, jumping in is just not my style) with both feet. And, ok, I think we technically reconnected in 2013, but this year I've so enjoyed chatting more and more with my first-best-friend-turned-children's-author, Jessica Lawson. Still so psyched we found each other & share a passion for children's books!

4. Finishing my 1st Novel. I may be the only person in Chicago thankful for the "Polar Vortex" or whatever you want to call the string of 40 below zero and snow-filled days in early 2014. These days provided me with many days off work, stuck at home cozied up to my laptop. I'd joined a SCBWI group called the NYNNies (a spin-off of NaNoWriMo that stands for "New Year New Novel") and the timing couldn't have been better. Though it was very, very, very rough, by January 31st I finished my first middle grade novel manuscript! Even better, I have now completed 2nd and 3rd drafts and am halfway through the 4th revision (can I finish by 2015? That's the goal!)

3. Prairie Writer's & Illustrator's Day. See my post about this writing conference for more details, but to sum it up: great breakout sessions, became re-inspired, worked up the nerve to introduce myself to the members of the panel & received personalized feedback on my work. Win. 

2. Getting Interest in Response to a Query. Any published or pre-published writer knows: learn to live with rejection. Most people go through hundreds of rejection letters (or sometimes no response at all). So, when I sent an email query to a picture book publisher, I never imagined I'd get an immediate response that they were interested and would get back to me!! Ultimately, they passed, but that almost didn't matter (ok, it mattered). But the important part was that little mini-ego-boost I got from that glimmer of interest. That may keep me going for years!

1. Creating My Social Media Presence. Up until 2014, one of the easy things about my budding writing career was that it was optional. What I mean is that most people besides my family, close friends, and critique group didn't even know I wrote children's books. I wasn't really held accountable. So, it was really scary to start this blog and sign on to Twitter. Other people with life goals or New Year's Resolutions know what I'm talking about: once you announce your goal, people are going to ask you about it. It is motivating and intimidating. Now that everyone knows it's my dream to become a published children's book author, I can't just tell them "oh, I don't really feel like it anymore." LAME! And untrue. But the cool thing about announcing my goal is the massive amount of support I've received. I'd like to take this opportunity to give a big THANK YOU to everyone who has asked me about my books, read and/or commented on my blog, and given three cheers for my writing. 

          Check back in January for my 2015 Writing Resolutions, Writing Inspiration, and the 100 Best Writing Websites of 2014...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Prairie Writer's & Illustrator's Day 2014: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

         Reflecting on Prairie Writer's Day 2014 on the Sunday morning after, I can categorize my main impressions into three groups: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Yesterday's marathon day (8:30am-6:30pm, yes that's why I'm writing this from my bed) included a talented and helpful panel: 

Caroline Abbey: Senior Editor at Random House
Jordan Brown: Senior Editor at Walden Pond Press & Balzer + Bray
Brett Duquette: Editor at Sterling Children's Books
Karen Grencik: Agent at Red Fox Literary
Esther Hershenhorn: Author & Writing Coach (and personal mentor!)
Loraine Joyner: Senior Art Director at Peachtree Publishers
Rachel Orr: Agent at Prospect Agency
Eliza Wheeler: Author/Illustrator & keynote speaker
Noa Wheeler: Editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. 

Phew! That's a mouthful. Or, a keyboard full? Either way, these wonderful people were very generous with their time and wisdom and offered all kinds of tidbits for this conference room full of eager authors. 

1. I learned from Jordan Brown the "6 Signs That Your Manuscript Isn't Ready to Submit" and was very happy to note that I could check almost all of them off the list, including "If You Haven't Shared Your Manuscript With a Writing Group, It Isn't Ready to Submit" (check!) and "If Your Main Character Hasn't Done Something to Surprise You, Your Manuscript Isn't Ready to Submit" (check!). That last one sounds weird, I know, to non-writers or newbie writers. Just a short time ago, I myself was dubious when I'd hear authors exclaim "I couldn't believe she just did that!" I mean, you're the one who wrote it, right? But now that it's happened to me, I get it. Your characters take on a life of their'll be sitting there, happily composing a draft of a chapter, and all of a sudden you realize what your character is about to say or do, and although you know it came out of your own brain, it's almost as if it didn't. It is a COOL feeling. 
2. One of the other "6 Ways..." that I need to still do is to read my manuscript out loud. It's obvious to do this when it's a picture book, but for some reason I have yet to do this with my middle grade novel....DUH! The major irony here is that I tell my 4th grade students to do this with their writing at least twice a week. It's a great way to hear flow, catch mistakes, and listen for voice. 
3. Eliza Wheeler, whose keynote speech was all about inspiration, suggested making a soundtrack for the piece you are working on and listening to it BEFORE sitting down to write. I've heard of soundtracks for pieces before, but never thought of actually listening before writing as inspiration. In particular, she suggested movie soundtracks as they already have a narrative quality in the background music. Can't wait to try this!
4. One of the main benefits of attending PWD is that you are allowed to submit work to anyone & everyone on the panel in the months following the conference--even publishing houses that don't normally accept unsolicited submissions. So, that's a bonus I am prepared to take advantage of this year. 
5. I achieved my main goal for this year (see previous post Tips for Attending Writing Conferences) and ignored my inner introvert in order to introduce myself to as many people as possible. I ended up passing out about 10 business cards--aren't they cool?--and stayed for the Mix n Mingle to speak to some of the industry panel members I hadn't already spoken to! Go me!

6. This one is both good & bad. Whenever I attend conferences like this, I talk to others & look around the room and am comforted by the fact that there are so many people in the same boat. So many others who are also "pre-published" as I have now come to call myself. But, that thought can be pretty depressing at the same time. Look at all the writers--and only a few can and will be published one day. As one of the panel members noted, "There are millions of great writers in the world. But only a small percentage are actually published." Awesome. 

1. I didn't win the agent contest (2 winners receive a 30-minute sit-down with an agent about their submission). Let's add this to the Rejection Tally. However, at said Mix n Mingle I approached Rachel Orr and found out that she had read my contest submission. She was able to recite a very good chunk of my synopsis back to me, so I asked if she had any specific feedback for me. She said that although the premise was cool enough that she mentioned it to her husband (!!!!), and although there was voice (!!!!), scenes she loved (!!!!) and a plot twist that sounded cool (!!!!), there were 2 main reasons she didn't pick me for the contest: there is no place in the market right now for alternate society/dystopian. Sad face. Heart sinks. I had a creeping feeling this was the case, what with the inundation of Hunger Games and Divergent, etc., but it's not my fault I hadn't finished my book yet when those came out! No fair! She told me to keep working on it, get it perfect, and then maybe just hang on to it for a while. The other reason she didn't pick my book was more of a personal preference for her: too many futuristic details. 
            So, I was very disheartened coming home last night, realizing that my current novel is going to a be hard sell right now. I know, I know, it hasn't been a waste of time, look at all I've learned, maybe there'll be a market for it in a few years, I KNOW! But my heart doesn't care about all those logical things. 

1. It took 1 hour and 20 minutes to drive home (what should normally be 35 minutes). Through a snowstorm. 

Although I'm leaving you on "The Ugly" note, my overall feeling is a positive one. I have patience, I have tenacity, and I have lots of other ideas for books and an endless supply of chai lattes to get me through it all. As I told my husband last night, "I've dug myself in deep enough on this one that I can't just back out. The only way out is to keep digging." 

Hand me that shovel, will you?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Tips for Attending Writing Conferences

          Two weeks from today I'll be eagerly attending the 2014 Prairie Writer's Day, the Illinois SCBWI Chapter's annual writing extravaganza. Although this will be my 4th year attending, it is only just now that I finally feel like I "get it." My first year, I signed up and took copious notes and had a mini-heart attack at the thought of how much work was ahead of me. Years 2 and 3, I attended my breakout sessions and listened to the panels, thinking, "Hmm, I already know most of this. Maybe this isn't the best use of my time & money." 

             But now that I finally understand the importance of networking in the publishing industry, now I get it. It's so much more than just sitting & taking notes and absorbing what wisdom I can; it's being there. Meeting people, and being met. Every other person at a writing conference is someone valuable to know. Maybe you're sitting next to an agent or an editor. Maybe you're sitting next to the next best-selling author. Maybe you're sitting next to your future critique partner. No matter who's next to you, it pays to make friends. 

         So this year, I intend to throw my introverted-bad-at-small-talk-with-strangers self out the window for a day and do my best at networking. I even have my talented graphic designer hubby working on my business cards to pass out. The "Mix n' Mingle" portion of the day--which I normally skip because it's the last hour of the day and I'm exhausted and have to drive an hour home--is what I look forward to the most (well, and dread a bit too if I'm being honest, due to that "bad at small talk" thing.) 

        In preparing for this year's conference, I've found 
Esther Hershenhorn's "Confessions and Tips from a Veteran SCBWI Conference-Goer" an extremely helpful resource. It's meant for conference newbies, but I think even veteran conference-goers can benefit from some of these reminders. My favorite tips:

- Do your homework ahead of time & know who the presenters are. It will make the day that much more meaningful. 

-Consider your immediate needs when choosing workshop sessions. Sure, we all need to know about dealing with agents or publishers at some point, but if you haven't even finished your manuscript yet then you should focus on that. 

-Divide & Conquer: partner up with a friend (or stranger) and share notes on workshop sessions you didn't attend. Twice the knowledge=always advantageous. 

Click on the above link for Esther's full tips. Again--thanks Esther! 

Finally, HAPPY BELATED HALLOWEEN from my Ewok dog:

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Top 5 Things I Learned from Guide to Literary Agents 2015

          I was so excited when this puppy landed in my mailbox a couple weeks ago and eagerly sat down with my highlighter. Sure, you can (and should) research agents online, using websites like QueryTracker, Literary Rambles, and many others (see Links to Helpful Blogs and Other Webby Stuff). But this book is a handy all-in-one-spot information goldmine on all literary agents, children's and otherwise. 

           It also has several helpful articles about all things "books": writing, revising, querying, assessing agents, you name it. Here, I'll list the top 5 things I learned from this awesome guide (besides, of course, everything about potential agents)!

5. "Think of your query as the first and most important page of your manuscript" (p. 76). I don't think I really realized how important a well-written query is until recently. It matters! Many agents don't even make it past your query letter, so no matter how awesome your manuscript is, your query has to be just as good, if not better. 

4. Read, read, read! I already knew this one, but it never hurts to be reminded. Become an expert in your genre. Specifically, "know what's already out there, and make sure your novel stands apart" (p. 56)

3. Don't query every agent you love at first. Start with no more than ten, and if you receive 0-1 requests for more, you know your query has a problem. Get feedback from critique partners or online forums, rewrite your query, and try another round of queries. 

2. In the chapter entitled "8 Ways to Write a Great Chapter One": End the first chapter with some closure. "Because it is Chapter One, your readers will trust that the closure will turn out to be deliciously false." (p. 65). This is a good one for me, because I am a HUGE fan of cliffhangers at the end of chapters. 

1. A wonderful tool for honing your writing craft: Find a book or author you admire, perhaps one that's in the same genre as your WIP (work-in-progress), and type a passage/chapter yourself, word for word. Doing this helps unlock the mysteries of well-written literature (p. 89). I can't wait to sit down and try this with Lois Lowry's The Giver, my all-time favorite children's middle grade book!

Thanks to editor Chuck Sambuchino and all the contributors of The Guide to Literary Agents 2015!

Have you read it too? Share something new you learned by leaving a comment!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Hats Off to: Jessica Lawson (and BOOK GIVEAWAY!)

Let me tell you who Jessica Lawson is, not necessarily in order of importance:

1. Jessica Lawson is my very oldest friend. We grew up in houses that weren’t on the same street but were connected by a little sidewalk alley between our blocks, where in the springtime, Lily of the Valley grew abundantly, dubbed “Lily of the Alley” by my mother. Our moms were friends and we went to the same neighborhood daycare, and were thick as thieves through kindergarten. I have distinct memories of playing with a creepy Miss Piggy puppet in her basement, trick-or-treating each Halloween, and attending her hobo-themed birthday party (apologies to any homeless people. In talking we realized that we both seem to remember this party vividly, yet when trying to justify how fun it was to have plastic cigars as party favors for 6-year-old girls, it loses quite a bit of its charm and acceptable-ness. Apparently the hobo-themed birthday party was a strange phenomenon of the 80's. Through this dialogue I also learned that Jessica is an expert on the subtleties between hobos, tramps, & bums, if you're interested). 

Don't I make a decent hobo? I mean, that hat. 

When we were starting first grade, my family moved across town, placing me in a different school, and we gradually grew apart. I can’t remember the year but sometime before middle school, her family moved to Indiana, distancing us even further. But our friendship fought on! We were penpals for years (another lost phenomenon of the 80's and prior, thanks to the digital age), and we decided to go to the same sleepaway camp the summer before 8th grade. From there, high school and college busied us, and we lost touch.
            Until Facebook. I found Jessica in a kindergarten picture someone had tagged us both in, and contacted her, only to learn that….

2. Jessica Lawson is a children’s book author! Imagine my delight at not only finding my long-lost first best friend EVER, but in also discovering that she writes (and publishes!) children’s books. I was dumbfounded. Ever since finding each other, we have been emailing and catching up, and she has been instrumental in not only giving helpful hints about the publishing industry, but also in my own motivation to write. I couldn't wait to read her debut middle grade novel, The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher, when it came out this summer, and am super excited to share it with my students and hopefully set up some sort of author-Skype session. And she has another book on the way—all of this while raising two stepchildren and two small little girls. Not sure how she does it, but she is inspiring. Visit her author website here:, and her blog here: Aspiring authors, Jessica’s blog is filled with very helpful links about the writing craft, querying, agents….you name it!

3. Jessica Lawson is someone who is generous with her time and was kind enough to answer some interview questions for my blog:

Q: How did your writing career begin?
A: The reason I started writing with the intention of one day getting published was because of my children. When I had my first child, I had some extra time at home. I took up writing and queried my first novel back in fall of 2009. I soon realized how much I loved the process (“People in New York City are reading my query letter and pages! Sure, they’re rejecting my stuff, but they’re reading it! How cool is that???”) and became engrossed in learning about writing craft and trying my best to improve. My first publication credit was in Stories for Children, an online kids’ magazine. That was years ago. I got a check for five dollars for my alliterative story “A Pickle for Patty.” I still have that check—I never cashed it because I didn’t want to give it to the bank and lose that precious piece of paper that had the words “stories for children” and my name printed on it. I figured that could be my career right there, so I kept it. (I love that story)

Q:  How many times was your work rejected before you got published? Any good rejection stories?
A: Oh, there were lots of rejections and I’m sure there will be plenty more (going on submission with publishers with new books can make you feel like you’re querying all over again). I received hundreds and hundreds of rejections and it took three years before I got an agent in fall of 2012. I wrote eight novel manuscripts, a few picture books, several articles, and sent a bunch of children’s magazine submissions before I wrote The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher. Then it was 3-4 months before we went on submission and another 8 weeks or so before an offer came in.

No real good rejection stories. Rejections eventually turned into requests, then I got more rejections, then personalized rejections, more requests, R&Rs (revise and resubmit), etc. I think there was one time I got query rejection after nearly a year and I was like, “Well, this one doesn’t hurt a bit since I’m already querying my next novel and working on another one.”  

Q: How did you get the idea for Becky Thatcher?
A: I was dusting my bookshelves one day and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer caught my eye. I started thinking about the characters and how, as a young girl, I wanted to be like Tom and Huck, running around and finding adventures. Becky Thatcher was a character that I didn’t relate to as much, and I found myself wondering if maybe there was a way to play around with the story and let her get into mischief as well. My version of Becky had an older brother, Jon, who she admired above all others and is grieving when the story opens; that character was inspired by my own brother-in-law.

Q: What is your favorite scene or sentence from the book?
A: I like it when Becky Thatcher tells Tom Sawyer that he’s got to spit more if he wants friends. Not something I would tell my own daughter, but it was fun to write 

Q:  What are you working on now?
A: Right now I’m waiting to go over the first pass pages of Nooks & Crannies, a middle grade story set in the Lake District of England in 1906. It was pitched as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Clue” and will be published next summer. I’m also working on a manuscript called Waiting for Augusta. It’s about an 11-year-old runaway who travels from Alabama to Georgia in an attempt to make peace with his dead father. It’s scheduled to be published summer of 2016.

Q: What books are on your nightstand right now?
A: Lots. Let me go see. Okay: Christopher Paul Curtis’s Elijah of Buxton, Donna Gephart’s Death By Toilet Paper, Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy, Arnold Lobel’s Fables, Ally Carter’s Heist Society, Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, Karen Foxlee’s Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy, Roald Dahl’s Danny, The Champion of the World, Hans Brinker, Ann Patchett’s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Varian Johnson’s The Great Greene Heist, and ARCs of Stuart Gibbs’ Evil Spy School, Robin Stevens’s Murder is Bad Manners, and Heather Vogel Frederick’s Absolutely Truly. Some are books that I’m reading for the first time, some are ones that I’m re-reading for pleasure or to see how the author worked a certain piece of his/her writing craft/magic, and some are just comfort books that I like to have near me.

Q: What's one piece of advice for aspiring authors?
A: Try not to give up on the road to getting published~ think of it as a quest. A quest is exciting! A quest has challenges! A quest has triumphs to celebrate~ big ones and smaller ones! A quest is both a deeply personal journey and one that requires teamwork along the way! A quest has places where you might give up, but don’t! It’s okay to get disheartened, but please, please, please use the resources you can find, both internally and externally to keep going.

Thanks so much for having me on your blog! I’m so glad that we’ve found each other again after all these years! (Me too!)

4. Finally, Jessica is generously offering a book giveaway of The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher to a randomly selected person! All you have to do is leave a comment below (by midnight central time on Friday, October 10). Trust me, you want to read this book if you love a main character with a strong and funny voice (and really, who doesn't?), if you are a Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn fan, or if you enjoy an adventurous, troublemaker, female protagonist. UPDATE: The winner is Kathy! Congratulations! Shoot me an email (use "Contact Nicole" in the left sidebar) and we'll deliver your brand-new book!


Sunday, September 14, 2014

It Takes a Village...of Writers

In the language arts curriculum materials in my 4th grade classroom, one of the units is called “The Writing Community.” It encourages kids to discuss, share, peer edit…you get the idea. I teach it, but never thought much about how it applies to me as a writer. 

Many writers think of themselves as loners. Islands. After all, books are published by individuals, not groups. Right? 


  I used to think like that too. Taking my first official children’s book writing class, I was super worried and dubious about having to share my writing. How were these people going to help me?Wasn’t everyone going to steal my original and amazing ideas? On top of that, how would I handle the harsh criticisms my classmates and teacher were sure to dole out?

            With each classmate offering praise and helpful suggestions for my book, the lightbulb over my head grew brighter. I had my "AHA moment." The writing community is actually amazingly supportive! Fellow writers don't steal your ideas, they encourage you! Writers work together, helping others get published, because they all know just how rough it is. 

If you don't believe me, take the book you're currently reading and flip to the "Acknowledgements" section. Count how many people the author thanks for helping them publish their book...usually the count is pretty high (i.e. more than just their spouse, kids, and pets). 

I am amazed how I'm continually learning this lesson. Most recently, I joined Twitter and discovered a whole tweeting community of writers. Within a month of joining I received awesome feedback on my query letter and first chapter of my middle grade novel--just because people volunteered to help me. 

I am indebted to the writing community and hope that my small contributions make up for the wealth of help & support I've received from others. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

On Rejection

       To borrow from Thomas Edison, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Ok, so I'm still a few thousand away from his mark, but I have found many ways NOT to publish a book. 

       Rejection sucks, let's be honest. But the silver lining is that in most cases, to be rejected at all, you have to have put yourself out there in one way or another. Dumped by a boyfriend? Well, you made yourself vulnerable and gave it a shot. Turned down by your first college pick? At least you applied! Didn't win a writing contest or got yet another rejection letter? Hey, good for you for writing a book and putting it out into the world for others to judge!

       I'll never forget one of my first rejections I received. I'd sent a picture book to a publisher that was accepting open submissions and looking for exactly what I had. I couldn't contain my excitement when I got an immediate email response that they were going to "kick it around for a while." Kick all you want! Months later, I got a very simply stated rejection email: "Sorry, turns out it's not going to work for us after all." Booooo! That night, I happened to attend a writing workshop with my local SCBWI network. As part of my introduction, I told them about the rejection letter earlier that day. 

       They all clapped. 

       I've never felt better about a rejection. They reminded me how awesome it was that not only had I written a book and flung it out into the publishing world, but I had gotten interest. Maybe not a bite, but at least a little nibble. 

       Still, it never hurts to be reminded that even my favorite authors get rejection letters...

       Do you have an awful, funny, or great rejection story? I'd love to hear it! Please post it in a comment below. 

       I, at the very least, will applaud you. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Pardon Me While I Teach

Late August/early of the busiest times in a teacher's life. A whole new batch of kids to learn their names, their quirks, their strengths & weaknesses, and the things you can use to connect to them. On top of that, the administrative duties that happen only at the beginning of the year: getting all their computer passwords set up, making sure you have enough social studies textbooks, making nametags, labeling supplies. And then there is the "training" of the kids, getting them used to your personal routines, your schedule, your preferences for where & when they turn in homework, when they can go to the bathroom, and just how much misbehavior you'll put up with (answer: none, unless they do something that truly makes me laugh). Oh--and the most important part, yet the part that ends up the afterthought to all that: teaching. Lesson plans to get the actual curriculum rolling as soon as possible because you know that come June you'll be running out of days to squeeze it all in. 

This is where I am now, one week in. A successful week so far, if you don't count the power outage and fire alarm on the first day! But, it is busy, and it is exhausting. My writing immediately took a backseat to the start of the school year. It's as it should be, seeing as I get a paycheck for teaching and writing has provided no income yet, but it is also disappointing since I had such great momentum over the summer. It just means I have to make writing a priority in my free time (like now, sitting on the couch of my in-laws' Michigan lake house listening to the waves). 

If there are any teachers out there who think writing will be a great "summer activity," think again. It's a full-time job. Sure, the summer is a great time to get big chunks of writing or research done, but if you ever want to get anywhere, not to mention if it's something you're truly passionate about, you're not going to be able to leave it alone September through June. 

So, if there are any Pitch Wars mentors reading this, fear not: If I am chosen it will be the biggest thing to happen in my writing career and I will treat it as such. 

Besides, I'm sure my in-laws will be happy to lend me some space at their lake house so I can write.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Pitch Wars Is Here!

I am super super excited that for the first time ever I have entered Pitch Wars! If you are unfamiliar, check out what it is here. In short, it's an amazing opportunity for aspiring authors (ahem, moi) to not only get feedback on a finished manuscript from an experienced and, from what I can tell, lovely and fun mentor, but also to improve their writing and their chances at getting seen/snagged by an agent! I really hope I get picked by one of the mentors I've applied to, but even if I don't I've already learned a lot, improved my manuscript & query letter, and made connections with tons of great writing people! So, win-win.

And now, although it lacks GIFs, my Pitch Wars Mentee Bio. In other words, here's who I am and why you, my potential mentors, might like working with me. I love lists, so here is Nicole in a list, in no particular order:

1. I am a child at heart, truly. Sometimes my husband calls me "childish" but I prefer "child-like." You know, tomato/tomato...hmm, that doesn't work as well in type. One example: I love all things Disney. I seriously cannot get enough of Disneyworld. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.

2. My favorite holiday is Halloween. Candy + costumes + spooky stuff = perfect!

Minions (i.e.The 4th Grade Team)

3. I have a MAJOR sweet tooth. Which also means I love baking cookies, pies, cakes (I make a mean chocolate souffle), and I've tried dipping pretty much everything in chocolate. Oh--and Nutella is the nectar of the gods. 

4. To make up for the sweet tooth, being active is a big part of my life. I'm a runner (2 marathons, 6 halfies, 2 triathlons, and a smattering of smaller races) and I love to dance. 

See how I combine my favorite things? 
That's me, dressed as Belle, running a halfie at Disneyworld.

5. My favorite season is fall. I'm a teacher, so back-to-school time is always fun. I think fall has the best smells: fresh school supplies being unpacked on the 1st day of school; apple cider donuts; pumpkin bread/pie/ice cream/anything; cozy fires. Mmmmm!

6. Travel is a priority. I absolutely love seeing other corners of the world and experiencing different cultures. My husband and I travelled Italy for two weeks this summer and it was the trip of a lifetime (and you better believe I had gelato every single day!) Still on the list: Thailand, Alaska, Machu Picchu, more Europe, African Safari...

7. At any given time you can find at least one children's book and one adult book on my nightstand. I love transporting myself to other worlds through reading. I also co-founded my lovely book club. Favorite middle grade book: The Giver (still debating if I'll see the movie). Favorite adult book: The Time Traveller's Wife (definitely not seeing the movie). 

8. Speaking of clubs, I'm also a member of a critique group that meets monthly. As a picture book and middle grade writer, I love that our group has every children's category represented. This group of talented women is largely responsible for improving my writing. Thanks ladies!

9. I am 100% type-A: organized, early for everything, a little neurotic, perfectionist. It makes me a bit stressed out from time to time, but also makes me a hard worker and go-getter. 

10. Which means I usually have time for an afternoon nap.

I hope that helped you to "know" me a little better. All in all, my goal with Pitch Wars is to learn, improve my writing, and meet new people in the writing world. Like I said, I already feel like those things have happened. 

But, if I am chosen by one of my mentors, I will be doing a LOT of jumping up and down, screaming, and dancing with my dog while he looks at me like I'm crazy. 


Monday, August 4, 2014

Hats Off to: Esther Hershenhorn

        Without Esther Hershenhorn, I wouldn't be where I am today in the world of publishing children's books. "And exactly where are you?" you're probably asking. You're right, I haven't actually published anything. Yet. But publishing children's books is quite a journey, and with Esther's help I now have my bags packed with all the right gear, a reliable road map, a tank full of gas, and several trusty and loyal travel-buddies.

          In the summer of 2010 I enrolled in a children's book writing course. Driving there the first night, I was surprised to find the address was residential, and even more surprised to find that the class was held in the coach-house apartment of the "instructor," who had me sit on her couch, pulling her toddler daughter's squeaky toys out from under my bum, while she told me various topics to write about and watched me write in silence. Creepy, right? And yes, I was the only student, though the instructor assured me my classmates were "sick" or "out of town this week." That was NOT Esther's course.

         Flash forward to the following summer. Undeterred by the seeming scam of my previous course, I signed up for Esther Hershenhorn's children's book writing workshop at the Newberry Library--much more reliable. (If you are a fellow Chicagoan, check out their fabulous writing workshops here.) Week by week, the clouds of ignorance parted and the warming rays of Esther's knowledge shone down, shedding light on the world of children's books. It was much more than just a writing workshop. All the students submitted works ranging from picture book to YA, and we critiqued and encouraged each other. But more importantly, Esther gently guided us into this new world, emphasizing the importance of networking and the writing community. I'd always thought of writing as an independent thing; a solo endeavor. Esther quickly turned my thinking upside-down, and by the time I finished her course I was a member of both SCBWI and a critique group...and I've never looked back. Before Esther, I had no idea how much I didn't know about writing and publishing children's books. But using the momentum she gave me, I now know what people are talking about when I attend conferences. I know what PB, MG, and YA stand for. I know what querying is, what typical word counts are, and the usual amount of rejection letters before publication (hovering in the hundreds). 

         As a result of Esther's course, I now meet monthly with a talented, knowledgeable, and ever-expanding group of writers who have helped shape me as an author, as well as my works themselves. And like our mama bear, Esther still checks in on us from time to time and is a constant supporter of our writing. 

        If you'd like a little bit of this Esther-y goodness in your life, you're in luck! Come to Prairie Writer's Day 2014, where she is on the panel. Get tips on her blog, Teaching Authors. Hire her as a one-on-one writing coach, or find a class she is teaching, by visiting her website.  

Thanks again, Esther!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


I first welcome myself to the ability to add “blogging” to my to-do list. I welcome you, my reader, to my blog, and to my dream. Well, that sounds creepy…you’re not really in my dream. Ever since I was about 9, I’ve had the dream of becoming a published author, among many other things. The author part is easy. I love writing and always have. I’ve written journals, poems, stories, books, letters, and far too many lists over the years. In fact, I’m a little surprised it’s taken me this long to start a blog. What better forum for writing and sharing my every thought and whim than a blog?

Now, the publishing part is much more difficult. Much. More. Difficult. I think I’ve known my whole life that the publishing part would be hard, and maybe that’s why it’s taken me this long to really attempt it. But I’m a go-getter, not a sit-around-and-think-about-all-the-things-I-want-to-accomplish-er. In my early twenties when I decided it was a life goal of mine to run a marathon, I signed up. Without ever having trained for a single competitive race in my life. And I did it—and still do. So I’ve applied the same strategy to my writing. If I want to publish a book in my lifetime, I’d better get going. I’ve been writing “seriously” for 4 years, taking classes, attending seminars, joining SCBWI, and participating in critique groups. I’m taking advantage of every opportunity I can get my hands on, or trying to. I figure that’s the best way to succeed, and even if I don’t get published, at least I can say I tried everything I could. And I can say I had fun…because it has been lots of fun and quite an adventure already!

Which makes me just like the Very Hungry Caterpillar (a favorite children’s book of mine, and the gift I always give to brand-new babies, because every child should have this book in their life and enjoy poking their fingers through the holes in the pages). I am the Very Hungry Author…eating everything I can get my hands on, taking it all in, with the hopes of emerging as a beautiful butterfly, ahem, published author, someday.

If you came here looking for a food blog you’re in the wrong place.