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!


It’s July 22nd and I have one question:

Have you signed up for our region’s conference “On the Road to Sparkling Children’s Literature”? Yeah, I know it’s only been open for one day, but really, what are you waiting for?

Held on September 20 and 21, 2014 at the Claggett Conference Center in Buckeystown, Maryland, this will be a one-day event on Saturday with separate intensives on Sunday. Registration for the one-day conference is required before registering for the intensives. Critiques will also be available (registration for the one-day conference is also required to receive a critique).

Check out our amazing faculty:

Calista Brill, Senior Editor at First Second Books

David Teague, Authors and Co-Author

Kirsten Hall, Founder of Catbird Productions

Ella Kennen, Agent at Corvisiero Literary AgencyJennifer Laughran, Agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency

Emma Ledbetter, Associate Editor at Simon & Schuster

John Micklos, Jr., Author

Miranda Paul, Author & Director of Rate Your Story

Becky Shapiro, Associate Editor at Scholastic

Sarah Sullivan, Author

Marc Tyler Nobleman, Author

Ariane Szu-Tu, Asociate Editor at National Geographic

What a great lineup! I hope you all have plans on attending!

Happy writing and illustrating!


Posted by: Shelley Koon | July 18, 2014

Save Yourselves!!!

lsOr your work rather…

How often do you save your documents or illustrations?  Do you back your work up? If so how often? Is your backed up data stored locally or in the cloud?

I consider myself to be pretty good at backing my files up.  I have the hard drive on my computer that my work is backed up on, I have an external drive that I back up to and I also have two offsite “cloud” storage accounts.  Does that sound like a lot to you?  Welllllll, let me tell you a quick story about why I go to the lengths I do… Read More…

Posted by: Shelley Koon | July 14, 2014

The Name Game

scarlett1Names can help us convey who our characters are, where they’re from and, in some cases, even what they look like. One almost hisses when they say the name Katniss, a nod to her stealth and feline agility. Hannibal Lecter pretty much screams cannibal! And of course there is Scarlett O’Hara who we immediately know is a fiery force to be reckoned with. But did you know her name was originally Pansy? What if I told you Gandalf was slated to be the dwarf king and Bladorthin was to be the Grey? J.R.R. Tolkein played around with a number of names before landing on those we know so well today, but what if he had stuck to his original draft? Would it have made his characters less memorable? Read More…

Posted by: Laura Bowers | July 11, 2014

Lessons to learn from Author Anonymous: Read what you love

Author AnonymousHave you seen Authors Anonymous? I’ve never heard about it until I saw it at a Red Box.

When a dysfunctional group of unpublished writers accept Hannah into their fold, the last thing they expect is her overnight success. Can these lovable misfits achieve their artistic dreams and avoid killing one another in the process?

It looked cute and–come on–it’s about writers, so I rented it despite my husband raising an eyebrow in his you’re really going to make me watch that kind of way. (For the record, I didn’t make him watch it. He’s not a big fan of mockumentary type movies, especially those with no car chases, explosions, or fight scenes.)

While this movie has been slammed by critics and was a tad slow at times, I still really enjoyed it! Chris Klein is adorable as John, the earnest Fitzgerald devotee who’s in love with Hannah, played by Kelly Cuoco. But mostly, I liked it because as an author, there was so much I could relate to!

  • The jealousy you feel when a friend is more successful.
  • The guilt you feel from being jealous of said friend.
  • How easy it is to allow personal issues to stifle your creative energy.
  • The pain of rejection.
  • The anxiety of success.
  • The humiliation of sitting through a book signing where absolutely no one has any interest in your book. (For me, this happened at 2007’s ALA, where Judy Bloom’s table was in the row beside me and her long, long line hooked all the way down my row with folks doing everything they can to avoid eye contact with me. Most. Uncomfortable. Hour. Ever.)

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Read More…

Posted by: Laura Bowers | July 7, 2014

More fantastic member news!

Happy (late) 4th of July, everyone! Today we have more awesomely wonderful REGIONAL MEMBER NEWS to start the week of!

This one if for Kathy MacMillan‘s two-book deal with HarperTeen as announced by Publishers Weekly:

kathy_1-170x143Alexandra Cooper at HarperTeen has bought, in a two-book deal, an untitled debut novel by Kathy MacMillan. The first book, which is scheduled for winter 2016, is described as “a sweeping fantasy in the tradition of Megan Whalen Turner and Diana Wynne Jones.” It follows a girl from the underclass who is chosen to be one of four in the kingdom to learn the language of the gods, and unwittingly uncovers a secret that goes back to ancient times. Steven Malk at Writers House did the deal for world English rights.

Kathy is also the founder of The Sweet Sixteens, a group for Young Adult and Middle Grade authors debuting in 2016.

Congratulations and a mighty woo-HOO, Kathy, this is wonderful news! I’m looking forward to reading your books.


And remember, if you have good news–big or small–please submit them us to As The Eraser Burns can share! Submission Guidelines are in the menu bar above.

Happy writing and drawing, everyone!

Posted by: Laura Bowers | July 2, 2014

Member News & Conference Scholarship Info

Happy Wednesday, everyone! Today, I have some awesome, amazing …


… to share, so let me jump right in by giving a HUGE congratulations and mighty woo-HOO to Laura Shovan for her recently announced two book deal with Random House!

From Publishers Marketplace:

Poet and educator Laura Shovan’s debut middle-grade novel in verse, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, in which a class of fifth graders learns that their school will be torn down and replaced by a supermarket, and then takes their teacher’s 1960’s political teachings to heart as they fight to save it, to Wendy Lamb at Random House Children’s, at auction, in a two book deal, by Stephen Barbara at Foundry Literary + Media (NA).

Wow, congratulations, Laura, that’s wonderful news!! :)

I’m also happy announce that Ann McCallum will soon be hosting three launch events celebrating the August 5th release of her book, Eat Your Science Homework: Recipes for Inquiring Minds!

Eat_Science_HomeworkHungry readers discover delicious and distinct recipes in this witty companion to Eat Your Math Homework. A main text explains upper-elementary science concepts, including subatomic particles, acids and bases, black holes, and more. Alongside simple recipes, side-bars encourage readers to also experiment and explore outside of the kitchen. A review, glossary, and index make the entire book easy to digest.

Eat Your Science Homework: Recipes for Inquiring Minds is the second in the Eat Your Homework series. Here’s some praise for Eat Your Math Homework:

A yummy way to get parents and kids to more deeply understand math . . . and spend some time together in the kitchen.”—Kirkus Reviews

Mischievous, gap-toothed bunnies rendered in mixed-media collage explore math in the kitchen in this clever activity book.”—Publishers Weekly

Bring math learning into the classroom or family kitchen in a lively way.”—School Library Journal

Witty and smart, this unusually upbeat math book offers edible rewards for learning.”—Booklist

In celebration of the launch of Eat Your Science Homework, Ann will be hosting 3 separate events. Please come to one or all if you can– appropriate for children ages 6-12, their adults, or readers of any age. Rumor has it that there will be free giveaways including some tasty math and science recipes. Hope to see you there!

  • August 9: Smithsonian Museum of Natural History 1:00 p.m. (Located at the corner of 10th and Constitution, Washington, DC)
  • August 10: The National Children’s Museum 1:00 p.m. (Located at 151 St. George’s Street, National Harbor, MD 20745)
  • August 12: Kensington Park Public Library 6:30 p.m. (Located at 4201 Knowles Avenue, Kensington, MD 20895)

Congratulations on your upcoming release, Ann!


In case you didn’t receive the recent email sent by co-regional advisor extraordinaire Sue Poduska, here’s the information it contained:

[ETA: Oops, it was actually our other co-regional advisor extraordinaire Sue Peters who sent the message. Sorry, Sue!]

In memory of longtime volunteer Jack Reid, the MD/DE/WV SCBWI Region offers two scholarships (one for a writer and one for an illustrator) to the annual 2-day September conference. This year’s event will take place Sept. 20 and 21, 2014.

Writers wishing to apply should send up to 10 double-spaced pages of a work for children. Illustrators should send up to 3 jpg selections of their work. A cover letter, stating reason for applying, should accompany all entries. When entering, state the year in which you are applying for a scholarship.

Please include your name on your cover letter, but NOT on your actual manuscript or illustration. Submissions will be judged anonymously by the scholarship committee.

In addition to our usual variety of agent, editor, and author talks on Saturday, the fall 2014 conference will feature morning-long workshops on Sunday on picture books, illustration, YA and MG, and Nonfiction. The scholarship will cover these intensives as well as the Saturday activities. We will announce full program and faculty in mid-July. Meanwhile, here is a sneak peek at our Saturday program:

  • Senior Editor Calista Brill, First Second Books, will tell why “This is the Golden Age of Graphic Novels.”
  • Cecily Kaiser, publishing director for Abrams Appleseed, will present, “Bullseye! Making Books that Target the Young Child.”
  • In “Heroes without Capes” author Marc Tyler Nobleman will share his adventures researching and writing about Batman and Superman.
  • Agent Jennifer Laughran will reveal the truth behind many publishing myths.

Please note that applicants must be current SCBWI members, live within our MD/DE/WV region, and not be currently represented by a literary agent or with a project (manuscript or illustrations) currently under contract. Please email entries to The application deadline for this year is Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. Winners will be announced in mid-August.

Please save the Sept. 20 and 21 dates. We look forward to seeing you then.

Happy writing and drawing, everyone! :)

Posted by: Susan Mannix | June 26, 2014

Your Library of Ideas

Happy Thursday! Why is it happy, you ask? Because fellow MD/DE/WV SCBWI member Michael Karg has sent in a guest post, thus making my job shamefully easy!

Michael is a veterinarian and picture book writer. You can learn more about him on his website and by following him on Twitter at @michaelkarg.

Take it away, Michael!

Your Library of Ideas

“It’s my head, Schwartz! It’s my head!”

John Malkovich rages against trespassers entering a secret portal to joyride inside his mind in the wonderfully absurd movie, Being John Malkovich (1999). Falling victim to a puppeteer, Malkovich cedes control of his body and mind.

Faced with the blank page, writers should beware of such passivity. Maybe you won’t be unceremoniously dumped alongside the New Jersey Turnpike, but idly petitioning a muse to whisper magic words is a pale and feeble choice compared with seizing inspiration by yourself.

The expression “butt in chair” is for actual writing. Daydreaming counts too, if you’re writing in your head. But simply staring at the white screen will not bring any answers. In those cases, get your butt out of your chair. Your head is a limitless library. When you’re out of ideas, it is time to go out into the world with the library door open. You mean like a giant bookmobile? Um, yeah, OK.

Stuff comes through the door in new music and nature walks and heated dialogues and digging in the dirt and learning how to juggle violins on a unicycle. Forget about getting another copy of the same old books you know by heart. And, forget about the things you forgot, since those tattered memories have outlived their usefulness. Filling up the brain by adding new stuff is the only way to get more ideas.

New ideas don’t come from routines. They come from new experiences within familiar structures. So, let’s keep routines of personal hygiene, consistent shelter, chocolate consumption, staying hydrated, and most importantly, sleep.  Sleep is literally essential for life. Sleep deprivation is torture ending in death. Do whatever it takes to sleep well. Exercise. Buy a better mattress. Kill your TV.

This library of yours gets a lot of use during the day and the books end up on piles on the floor, misfiled or waiting in tall stacks of new releases. Sleep is closing time for your library and everything must be put back on the shelves, or else you’ll trip over some, failing to find the ones you need or being crushed under the fallen heaps. Rejuvenation comes to us as dream, and to sleep well is to dream well. Dreaming well leads to an organized, tidy library in the morning. Peruse the aisles of your library, mixing and matching thoughts and ideas into today’s story.

It’s your head. Use it or lose it.

Thanks so much, Michael! Remember friends, you too are welcome to submit a guest post. Check out this post by Laura for submission guidelines.

Have a fabulous weekend!

Posted by: Susan Mannix | June 23, 2014

Frederick Book Festival

Well, it’s official! I can finally say Happy Summer!!!!!! We’ve been having some drop-dead gorgeous weather lately.  Now that school is out, everyone’s summer plans can really get humming. For those of you who live in or near Frederick, might I suggest the Second Annual Frederick Book Festival this weekend?


It’s being held June 27th & 28th at the Hampton Inn on Buckeystown Pike. Friday is Writer’s Day (gotta love that!) and it offers various workshops. The next day is the actual book festival, with authors from different genres, including Young Adult and Middle Grade/Children’s. For more detailed information and registration, go to their website. This looks like a great event – they’re even having a costume ball on Friday evening – so check it out!

Have a great Monday!

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