Posted by: Susan Mannix | August 20, 2014

Critique and Portfolio Submission Deadline!!!

Hear Ye, Hear Ye!!! You have only two more days to get those manuscripts and portfolios in for review!!!



I’ve pulled the following right from the source, but make sure you go here for all the details:

“Three items MUST be completed BEFORE ANY CRITIQUE SLOT WILL BE RESERVED FOR YOU. Don’t ask to have a slot held until your printer is fixed. If you submit a revised version of your manuscript, you will get whatever slot is available when we receive the revision. We are not doing this to be mean to you, but rather to be fair to those who follow the rules and justifiably expect first consideration. Note that, while the deadline for critiques is Friday, August 22, we reserve the right to close submissions if all the slots are filled before that time. We will do our best to spread the word if this occurs. Loretta will let you know when your critique is scheduled.

A printed copy is necessary for those critiquers who prefer to work this way. Don’t ask Loretta to print out your copy for you. Her job is very time-consuming, plus all that paper and printing would get expensive for her.

1)  Register for the conference and pay for the conference and your critique

2)  Send an electronic copy to Loretta Carlson at

3)  Mail a printed copy to

Loretta Carlson


PO Box 1546

Bear, DE 19701

Attach 2014SeptCritiqueForm to identify your manscript and indicate your critiquer preference.

Your manuscript must be double-spaced, size 12 font, and not more than 10 pages. You may also submit a summary or synopsis in addition to the 10 pages. A manuscript example is available here. SamplePages Picture book writers: Only one story may be reviewed.

In the email and on the printed copy, indicate your first three preferences for critiquer. The critiquers and their genre preferences are clearly listed on the critique form available above. CRITIQUE SLOTS FOR EMMA LEDBETTER AND ELLA KENNEN ARE NOW FULL. Reiko Davis, an agent with the Miriam Altshuler Literary Agency, will be reviewing a limited number of YA and MF fiction and poetry manuscripts. For novels, she will review contemporary and fantasy only.

ART PORTFOLIO REVIEWS: Register and pay for the conference and portfolio review and email Susan Detwiler . She will let you know when your review is scheduled. Do not send original artwork through the mail.

Okay, folks…get cracking and get those submissions in!!!

Posted by: Susan Mannix | August 19, 2014

Coffee and Conversation with John Micklos

Tuesday greetings friends! I CANNOT believe how fast this summer is going. We’re over halfway through August and schools start next week, including most colleges. Fair warning: you may want to steer clear of me next week, unless you’re into conversing with an hysterical blubbering mass.  My oldest is heading off to college and my youngest will officially be a senior in high school. Time has certainly been flying by in my house – at Mach 3!  I could really use a little slowing down and I can’t think of a better way to do it than getting to know one of the amazing faculty members for our upcoming conference On the Road to Sparkling Children’s Literature.

Today we’re being visited by author John Micklos, Jr.

John Micklos Photo

After spending more than 30 years in educational publishing as an editor for the International Reading Association John now works as a children’s book author, freelance writer, and editorial consultant. His byline has appeared in national magazines such as National Geographic Kids, Highlights, and Modern Bride. His 20 books include poetry, biography, and poetry titles for prekindergarten through high school students. His subjects include Elvis, Muhammad Ali, Jennifer Hudson, Amelia Earhart, and the Challenger disaster. Visit John’s website at

In their Saturday conference session John and editor Ariane Szu-Tu (National Geographic Kids) will discuss their work as part of the team preparing the recently published NGK book 125 TRUE STORIES OF AMAZING PETS. They will describe the development process from idea generation to research, from writing to editing, from photo collection to production. On Sunday, they will give theintensive  He Said, She Said: Double Your Idea’s Chance of Success with Proven Development Approaches from an Author and Editor. Building on the theme from their Saturday session, they will examine in detail, from their respective positions, the various stages involved in carrying a concept from idea through finished project. Whereas Saturday’s session covers a specific book, Sunday’s workshop focuses on how these principles apply to ANY writing project.

And now that John is settled into our ultra-comfy cyber chair, let’s get started!

Read More…

Posted by: Shelley Koon | August 15, 2014

Coffee and Chat with Marc Tyler Nobleman

Marc Tyler Nobleman Photo_1We’re excited to have Marc Tyler Nobleman, author of  Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman and Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, joining us at our fall conference, On the Road to Sparkling Literature.    Marc will be “pulling back the cape” to reveal secrets he uncovered and mysteries he solved while researching  his books about two of the world’s most enduring icons, Superman and Batman. A real-life detective story featuring surprises both uplifting and heartbreaking, engaging even to those who couldn’t care less about superheroes (an even more so for those of us who love them!).

As a bonus he’ll let us in on the story behind his “kidlit authors read bad reviews” videos that went viral earlier this year! So what’s next for this superhero of an author? Two new books: Thirty Minutes Over Oregon and The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra.  Can’t wait until they come out and want to keep up on all the news both about and by Marc?  Then follow his blog noblemania!  Still want more?  Lucky you – we caught up with him for coffee and a chat… Read More…

Posted by: Shelley Koon | August 12, 2014

Conversation & Coffee with Calista Brill

calistaToday we’re chatting with Calista Brill, Senior Editor at First Second Books.

A lifelong comics fan, Calista has edited graphic novels for First Second for over six years. Her areas of interest include nonfiction comics and children’s comics. At First Second, she has worked on New York Times bestselling titles such as FeynmanFairy Tale Comics, and Primates. Brill has previously been an editor at Disney Press, a freelance writer, and the world’s funnest nanny.

We’re very excited to have Calista presenting  “This Is the Golden Age of Graphic Novels” at the 2014 On the Road to Sparkling Literature fall conference!
An overview of the history of graphic novel publishing in the US and an in-depth look at what makes this moment so special, especially for people who want to make graphic novels for kids. In addition she’ll be discussing the publishing being done by First Second, and a sneak-peak into the life of a graphic novel editor.

Now onto our chat! Read More…

Posted by: Laura Bowers | August 11, 2014

Illustrator Group-Critique Portfolio Workshop

Happy Monday, everyone! Here’s some awesome information sent to me by our lovely regional illustrator coordinator, Susan Detwiler:


On Saturday, August 9, the first Group-Critique Portfolio Workshop was held in the meeting room at the Pikesville branch of the Baltimore County Public Library. Admission was free and required only an RSVP email. It was coordinated by yours truly, Susan Detwiler, and attended by members Brittanny Handiboe, Lynn Farina, Kerry G. Johnson, and Joan Boor. We spent a couple of hours sharing our portfolios one by one and giving comments, advice, and general feedback about each others’ work. It was, as Joan said, “… wonderful, encouraging, and helpful… ” I was very impressed with not only the caliber of the artwork, but also the warm atmosphere and insightful and nurturing discussions that took place. I remember fondly the gathering of illustrators I would sometimes lead at the end of past conferences to look over each others’ work and share comments and ideas about illustration — this was even better, because we were not rushed at all. We have some very talented illustrators in our region, and I hope you will all take a look at the work of these artists! And I send thanks to everyone who attended.

I hope to do this workshop again. Watch this space, and also our region’s Facebook page.

Susan Detwiler, Illustrator Coordinator MD/DE/WV SCBWI

Posted by: Laura Bowers | August 8, 2014

Coffee & Conversation with David Teague

With only six more weeks until the On the Road to Sparkling Literature Conference on September 20-21, you know what that means, right? Another series of awesome speaker interviews! We’re kicking things off with David Teague joining us in the cyber café and he’s brought along one of our best “favorite place to work photo” so far.

santoteague-author-photo-color-277x300David is the author of the picture book Franklin’s Big Dreams and the forthcoming Henry Cicada’s Anything But Ordinary Adventure. He lives in Wilmington, Delaware with his wife Marisa de los Santos and their two children, Annabel and Charles. Marisa is the author of the New York Times bestselling adult novel Love Walked In, which is also a perennial staple on YA fiction lists, as well as Belong to Me, Falling Together, and the forthcoming The Precious One. Saving Lucas Biggs is David and Marisa’s first middle-grade novel, and their first collaborative project.

Saving Lucas BiggsPerfect for fans of Margaret Peterson Haddix, When You Reach Me, and Savvy, this charming time-travel story from husband-and-wife team Marisa de los Santos and David Teague follows one girl’s race to change the past in order to save her father’s future.

Thirteen-year-old Margaret knows her father is innocent, but that doesn’t stop the cruel Judge Biggs from sentencing him to death. Margaret is determined to save her dad, even if it means using her family’s secret—and forbidden—ability to time travel. With the help of her best friend, Charlie, and his grandpa Josh, Margaret goes back to a time when Judge Biggs was a young boy and tries to prevent the chain of events that transformed him into a corrupt, jaded man. But with the forces of history working against her, will Margaret be able to change the past? Or will she be pushed back to a present in which her father is still doomed?

Told in alternating voices between Margaret and Josh, this heartwarming story shows that sometimes the forces of good need a little extra help to triumph over the forces of evil.

Read More…

Posted by: Laura Bowers | August 6, 2014

When It’s Not Your Writing Season

Things I’ve learned while training for my first marathon:

1. “I’ll do my work first and then run later” usually translates to “I’ll most likely miss my run today and then feel like crap about it later.”

2. Ice baths are awful.

IMG_62013. It’s not a good idea to tuck a Gu Energy Gel under my running belt, thinking it will stay. Especially the salted caramel kind with the Yeti on the front because the stuff tastes like liquid gold candy and shouldn’t be wasted. (Lost this one two steps into a hot six miler. I’m sorry, Yeti.)

4. If I forget to bring tissues, either my sleeves or shirt tail will get very dirty as a result because I refuse to snot rocket. Re. Fuse.

5. Accidentally swallowing a bug and then imagining it trying to crawl up my throat to freedom really messes with my mind. (Huh. That would make for a cool picture book, right? No? Okay, forget I asked.) Read More…

Posted by: Larissa Graham | August 1, 2014

Part Two: Creating Strong Villains

What makes a story great?  There are a multitude of answers to that question: the premise, the writing, the protagonist, the setting, etc…  But, I have a confession. What makes me stay up all night turning the pages is the villain.

Yup.  I live for a good villain.  The villain brings the conflict, amps it up, and forces our hero to make changes.  The torture, the pain, and the suffering move the story forward.  As a reader, I want to  know (I have to know) what will happen next.  How will the hero ever overcome all the challenges, the obstacles, the danger?  

The villain creates the tension which strengthens our emotional attachment to the protagonist.  It’s the attachment that keeps us turning the pages.  The villain is the threat- the very source of the conflict.  And, good fiction is driven by conflict.  Would The Shining be as great without Jack Torrence?  Would Silence of the Lambs be as memorable without the serial killers Buffalo Bill or Hannibal Lector?  Seriously, I will never forget the words, “It puts the lotion on its skin.” Still gives me goosebumps.  I didn’t go anywhere alone for a full year after seeing that movie.

Then, there are the literary villains of children’s literature: The White Witch, Voldemort, Captain Hook, The Other Mother, Sauron…the list goes on.  What makes these villains so good?  So memorably evil?

Here are a few things to consider when writing your villain:

1.  First, the reader has to care about the protagonist.  This is crucial.  If the reader doesn’t care about the protagonist, he/she won’t care when the villain tortures the  protagonist.  Without emotional attachment, there would be no story and your reader will stop flipping the pages.  

2.  The villain needs to be uniquely terrifying. (fur coats made out of puppies, a wizard so feared no one will say his name out loud, and need I say it again-LOTION)

3.  The villain should be highly motivated.  He/she must have something to gain and also something to lose.

4.  Your villain needs to be just as developed as your protagonist.  The villain should also have an arc that is credible and compelling.  Remember that your villain feels justified in their behavior.  They have a lot to lose and just as much to gain.  Spend some time showing readers why your villain behaves the way he/she does, how he/she became that way, and what he/she is getting out of it.  A good villain shouldn’t be one dimensional.  They need to have positive traits as well.  Characters that make an impact are complicated.

5. The villain must have a relatable sense of humanity ( if only a fraction).  This is not to be confused with actually being human, which is by no means necessary.  The villain should add anxiety, danger, and a sense of dread because they are the opposing force to your protagonist’s ideal state of being.

6.  The villain must be flawed.  Your villain needs to have a flaw that the protagonist will discover in order to defeat that villain in the end.  Their weaknesses should be relatable, but magnified.  Take a regular dose of jealousy, greed, etc… and multiply it by ten to get into the realm of a great villain.

7.  And, the villain has to have enough power to make the stakes really high- Believable, yet terrifying is a great combination for upping the tension.  Villains must torture the protagonist and, sometimes, win.

Creating a good villain can be a lot of fun.  So, get in touch with your diabolical side and let it spill across the page.  Your readers will thank you.

Happy Creating!

Posted by: Larissa Graham | July 29, 2014

Part One: Creating Strong Characters

Here’s a question for everyone who writes, illustrates, and is in any way involved in the shaping of a child’s perspective: do you feel responsible for creating characters that dispel misconceptions and stereotypes?  More and more, my answer is yes.  

I’ve been thinking a lot about how societies treat women-specifically, how they mistreat women.  There’s been so much sadness in the news lately and I’ve had trouble getting it off my mind.  From the kidnapped Nigerian school girls to the millions of girls that are wed before their eighteenth birthdays.  Domestic violence is the number one cause of injury to women in the United States. Maybe you knew that, but I was shocked by that statistic.  Every nine seconds, a woman in the United States is assaulted and three women a day are murdered by their boyfriends or husbands.  (Don’t even get me started on the sad penalty for Ray Rice’s recent activity.)  

Just how do these statistics relate to writing or illustrating?  The answer for me is: reality.  I want to my characters to be honest and real- to be complex memorable, and diverse.  We owe it to our readers to write and illustrate diverse and complex characters.

I have two daughters and a son and I desperately want for them to grow up in a world where they are respected and treated equitably- a world where they observe others being treated fairly-justly.

Now that my children are home from school for the summer, we have more time for movies and television. I am a person who really doesn’t watch television and rarely makes it to the movies.  Now, I wonder if I’ve  missed anything worth watching.  The depiction of women in the movies is disappointing .  I really don’t want my children absorbing these messages.  More often than not, the women are promiscuous, stupid, mean, or strangely speechless.  I am becoming that annoying mom who interrupts the movie to discuss stereotypes with my children and they (of course) find the intrusion irritating.  

I know that this type of misrepresentation affects many segments of society and I wonder, what is our responsibility as writers to address these issues?  Can and should we be part of a positive change?  I’m big on equality and honesty for all.  I’m not trying to censor anything.  I’m totally against censoring literature. I just want to add a more realistic depiction of women.  Real women.  I have this overwhelming sense of responsibility to provide young readers relatable and positive female role models.

But, how do we create strong characters?  While I have been thinking specifically of women- so many groups could stand to be represented more honestly in literature and the media.

How can writers and illustrators bring this depth of character into their work?  I think that in order to be relatable, all characters need an interior life and complex relationships.  To create characters that lack these two components is to provide only a superficial skeleton of a character.

Here are some things to keep in mind in order to create stronger characters:

  1. Don’t judge the characters.  Instead, try to find out who they are and depict them truthfully with words and/or pictures.
  2. The interaction between characters creates another level of character traits that are often more telling than dialog or the lack there of.
  3. Less is more sometimes.  I don’t want to eat any food that has more than five ingredients, that has ingredients I can’t pronounce, or that will stay fresh indefinitely. Writing is the same- Give readers a fresh perspective and avoid the same old junk food stereotypes that we are saturated with already. 
  4. Keep character flaws fresh, believable, and interesting.
  5. Make your characters strong, but vulnerable- possibly in an unexpected way. 
  6. Give readers something they don’t expect.
  7. Show your character’s motivation, goals, ability, personality, intelligence, and fears.  Give them depth.  Have them make a stand.  Neutrality in conflict is oppression or submission.  Neither are acceptable.
  8. Don’t make disenfranchised characters the wallflower, the wingman, or the doormat- unless you are doing so intentionally and with purpose.  Nothing and no one is plain or simple. 
  9. Give your characters choices and show their opinions.
  10. Remember that words and images are powerful.  Our work needs to be crafted to portray our characters in the light that we choose.  Each word and illustration must be used meaningfully.

With nothing more than our imagination, we create whole worlds.  I want them to be worlds filled with strong and diverse characters.

Here’s to strong women-

May we know them-

May we be them-

May we raise them-

Author Unknown

Happy writing and illustrating.

Posted by: Susan Mannix | July 26, 2014

Member News

Hello everyone! Welcome to a an absolutely gorgeous Friday afternoon that is more spring than summer like!

First off, let’s wish a belated Happy Book Birthday to chapter member Kelly Fiore!  Her second YA novel, JUST LIKE THE MOVIES, was released on July 22.


Pretty, popular Marijke Monti and over-achieving nerd-girl Lily Spencer have little in common—except that neither feels successful when it comes to love. Marijke can’t get her boyfriend to say “I love you” and Lily can’t get a boyfriend at all. When the girls end up at a late night showing of Titanic, sniffling along with the sinking ship, they realize that their love lives could—and should—be better. Which sparks an idea: Why can’t life be like a movie? Why can’t they create perfect romantic situations? Now they have a budding friendship and a plan—to act out grand gestures and get the guys of their dreams. It seems like fun at first, but reality turns out to be much more complicated, and they didn’t take into account that finding true love usually requires finding yourself first.

For any of you in the Frederick, MD area, Kelly will be doing a reading and book signing at the Curious Iguana bookstore on Sunday August 27th from 1-2pm.

Congratulations Kelly and best of luck!

More member news: Our Illustrator Coordinator Susan Detwiler was asked to participate in a blog tour about writing. Susan is an extraordinarily talented artist whose first book as an author/illustrator – FINE LIFE FOR A COUNTRY MOUSE- will be released in September. Go to her blog to learn more about her creative process.

Last on the agenda is a fabulous nugget of information that has come to us via chapter member and author Pam Smallcomb. She forwarded this fantastic blog post by Elizabeth Laws, Ten Things That Make an Editor Stop Reading Your Manuscript. Um, yeah…I have committed quite a few of those errors. Even though I winced while going through the list, I found it to be a fantastic source of advice, which I bookmarked instantly. I loved that it was inspired by Broadway personality Seth Rudetsky’s similar advice on auditions (Confession: I am a closet broadway musical nerd and listen to his show on Sirius Radio. He knows everything and everybody, plus he’s a hoot!)

That’s it for now. Have a happy and productive weekend!


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