“I’m going to be the next Dr. Seuss!” … seriously?

How unbelievably arrogant! Oh, the audacity, what kind of egotistical fool would dare claim that they’re going to be the next Dr. Seuss, a true genius and one-of-a-kind storyteller??

Um, well …

It was kind of me.

But before I get beaten up … let me explain.

See, it happened about … oh, fifteen years? sixteen? … let’s just say a very long time ago, about two years after I had decided to be a writer. I was sitting on my mother’s front porch, watching my children play on a jungle gym and thinking about my failed attempts as a mystery writer when it hit me:

Why don’t I write picture books??? Continue reading

Posted in Writing Tips | 3 Comments

Guest Post: A Delaware Writer’s Excellent Adventure at the New Jersey SCBWI Conference By Loretta Carlson

For only the second time ever, I ventured out of the Maryland/Delaware/West Virginia region to attend an SCBWI event. When I decided to try the New Jersey SCBWI Annual Summer Conference, boy, did I pick a winner!

Over two days (June 13 and 14), the conference provided seemingly nonstop opportunities for writers and illustrators to improve their craft, learn about marketing, and mingle with faculty and fellow SCBWI members. New Jersey is a bigger region than our own, and the conference reflected that, boasting 300 attendees, 46 faculty members, 78 sessions, and an illustrators’ intensive.

In addition to the many craft and marketing presentations, attendees could participate in First Page sessions, Agent Pitch sessions, and Editor/Agent Panels. We also could submit manuscripts and portfolios for one-on-one critiques with agents, editors, and published authors and illustrators. On Saturday evening, attendees who signed up ahead of time met for Peer Group Critiques.

I’m exhausted just writing all that!

A Few of My Favorite Things

After author/illustrator Denise Fleming’s charming and energetic opening keynote, author Kelly Calabrese got my workshop experience off to a great start with her “Agent Search Survival Guide.” She also offered the single most inspiring piece of advice I have ever heard.

If you believe it will happen, it will.

If you don’t believe, eat doughnuts.

Who can argue with a doughnut-based philosophy? Not I.

I have so many great memories from this conference, that it’s impossible to pick a single favorite. Here are three other experiences that made this conference memorable for me.

1. John Cusick, Closing Keynote: “How to Be a Writer without Going Crazy”

When a speaker inspires me while making me laugh and cry, I know I’ve hit keynote-speaker gold. Author/agent John Cusick did that and more. He reminded me why I love to write and why I need my writer friends.

At the heart of his speech, John ended up giving us permission to be crazy. He said, “Writing makes you crazy. . . . Crazy people make things up—and that’s exactly what writers do.” Fortunately, John reassured us that the world has enough well-balanced people. “Don’t worry about being normal because what you do is extraordinary.”

2. Marietta Zacker: “Relationships in Children’s Books”

Doesn’t everything that’s worthwhile in life and literature come down to nurturing relationships? Drawing from recent picture books, middle grade novels, and young adult novels, agent Marietta Zacker shared abundant examples of different types of relationships in children’s literature and how they affect the story’s main character.

At dinnertime on Saturday night, I was fortunate to be seated at Marietta’s table. She invited everyone to introduce himself or herself and encouraged us to ask questions. She was incredibly generous with her time and advice.

3. The Juried Art Show

Illustrators had the opportunity to submit one illustration that embodied the theme “Once Upon a Time.” Conference organizers set up the submissions in the hallway linking the hotel and conference center so everyone had the chance to check them out. I was excited to discover that although the real experts would determine the winners of the top prizes, every attendee could cast a vote for the Members’ Choice Award.

I’m afraid I’m the personification of this old joke: I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like. I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t often take the time to look at the displayed portfolios at our conferences. But I took my responsibility as a voter very seriously and carefully considered all the entries. I was amazed by the variety of styles and interpretations and gained a new appreciation for the art of illustration.

All’s Well That Ends Well

I traveled to the conference with two other writers from our region: Carol Larese Millward and Kate Szegda. We also chatted with Naomi Milliner and Miriam Chernick and saw a few others from the Maryland/Delaware/West Virginia region as we rushed from session to session.

For me, it was totally worth the trip, and New Jersey isn’t that far away. I came home inspired, energized, and ready to get back to work. I recommend this conference to people who would like to attend a bigger conference but are leery of tackling one of the national conferences.

If you were at the New Jersey SCBWI Conference, let us know in the Comments section. What did you think? What did you like best?

Posted in Guest Contributors | 4 Comments

Guest Post – Reading at Charmington’s by Tracy Gold

Area member Tracy Gold has sent in a guest post about a wonderful opportunity she has organized. Check it out!

Reading at Charmington’s with Kate Angelella from Sounding Sea July 2nd

When I started writing fiction seriously, I struggled to find ways to learn more about the craft. Of course, I joined SCBWI, but with events and conferences scattered all over three states, it was hard to find a consistent, personalized way to learn. I ended up enrolling in University of Baltimore’s Masters of Fine Arts program, which is wonderful, but it’s practically a full-time job and requires a tolerance for accruing student loans.

So I got together with some friends at UB and started Sounding Sea Writers’ Workshop to offer writing classes and tutoring in Baltimore.

Everyone is invited to our launch party and reading on July 2nd from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Charmington’s in Remington. SCBWI MD/DE/WV conference faculty member Kate Angelella will be reading, as well as local poet Tracy Dimond, and local fiction writer Michael B. Tager.

Come early for a delicious dinner at Charmington’s, if you like, and then catch up with Kate, socialize with other writers, and maybe even meet your next critique partner.

We are also giving one scholarship per class to a Baltimore City public school student. Feel free to spread the word if you know any students who love to write!

We are hoping to have 15-20 courses per year, and we would love your suggestions for topics, locations, and professors. If we get enough interest, we will make it happen! Please write to me at tracygold@soundingsea.com with your ideas.

Hope to see some of you on July 2nd!

Posted in Guest Contributors, Member News, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What A Character!

Hello everyone, I hope you are staying cool through this mid-June heatwave.

In keeping with the picture book theme this month, let’s explore the very important element of character development. I’ve recently read a couple of helpful blog posts on this subject, which I will share with you. But first, I want to go to one of my favorite guides, Ann Whitford Paul’s book Writing Picture Books, A Hands-On Guide From Story to Publication. In chapter 6, Creating Compelling Characters, Ann writes,

BookWritingPictureBooksPhoto1       “The best characters stay with readers and listeners long after childhood is over. That’s why some books stay in print for generations…






She goes on to list many examples, such as Ferdinand from The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, Madeline from the series by Ludwig Bemelmans, Frances from the Russell Hoban books, and then brings in contemporary characters like Fancy Nancy created by Jane O’Connor and Ian Falconer’s Olivia. Here are her guidelines for a compelling character:

  • Someone the reader cares about
  • Likable
  • A child, adult or animal who is childlikeOlivia 2
  • Imperfect
  • Someone who behaves in believable ways
  • Active, not passive
  • Able to solve his own problem

But, even though this is an easy-sounding list, the creation of a compelling character takes time, thought and work. Ann Whitford Paul says you must know your character inside and out, even the parts that don’t relate directly to the story. To enrich your understanding and connection with the character, you need to explore all aspects of his personality, his relationship with others, his appearance, desires, etc. She gives questions for you to answer before you can be sure that you’ve created a unique and engaging character.



I read a new post on a blog I follow, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) by Tara Lazar, and I think you’ll enjoy it. Guest contributor Tammi Sauer discusses some of the same points I outlined above, with pictures and examples. It’s titled How to Create Irresistible Picture Book Characters by Tammi Sauer (plus a giveaway on her book birthday!)




And, of course since we are talking about picture books, the illustrations are every bit as important as the words, when it comes to memorable characters!


Artist Agent Christina Tugeau of CATugeau shares her insights for illustrators on how to demonstrate consistent skills in the area of character development, which was featured on the Directory of Illustration blog and illustrated with images by one of my favorite illustrators, Patrice Barton, who is represented by Christina Tugeau. She points out that a series of illustrations showing sequential action is essential in a good portfolio. It’s also a great exercise for any illustrator; one of the first things an art director may ask from you is  sketches of the main character, in multiple poses and from various angles.

So, happy character development to you — make it real! Please feel free to share your own tips on this subject. I look forward to reading them.



Posted in Illustrating & Cover Art Tips, Writing & Drawing Exercises, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

May Midgrade Madness Results!

May Mid-Grade MadnessFirst off, major thanks to Kara Laughlin who did an AMAZING job coordinating this year’s May Midgrade Madness challenge! Seriously, if you want to get some great plotting advice, go check out our MMM Facebook page. She was posting something amazing nearly every day in May!

And I’m thrilled to announce that we had TWO AMAZING FINISHERS, who completed the challenge by writing over 20,000 words in a 72 hour period!

Congratulations and a mighty woo-HOO to Kara Laughlin and Janet Macreery! You ladies kicked some serious word count. Even Buddy thinks so:


Continue reading

Posted in May Midgrade Madness | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Coffee and Conversation with L.V. Pires

Hey folks! We’ve got an ABC event coming up this weekend! Author L.V. Pires will be presenting “Build Your World with Tips and Tricks” on Saturday, June 13th at the Broadneck Library in Annapolis, MD. Click on this link for more information and to register!

Today we are lucky to have L.V. Pires visit us here in the Cyber Café.

Pires, pic

Lisa Veronica Pires is the author of several stories for young readers, including EXTENSION, THE PORTRAIT, and SUMMER OF WINGED CREATURES.  She is the recipient of the Eileen Spinelli Award and a graduate of Spalding University’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Now that you’re settled in, let’s get started. First off, what’s your favorite coffeehouse beverage?

Caffe Medici – that’s orange, chocolate, and espresso.


And your favorite snack?

I lived in England for a year and got hooked on Flapjacks.  The chocolate ones are the best. Continue reading

Posted in Author/Illustrator Events, Interviews: Authors | 2 Comments

Eyes on the Annapolis Sketch Crawl


Maria Barbella,Sue Peters, Jeanne Ross, Stephanie Padgett, Karen Whiting, Cheryl Mendenhall, and Paige Billin-Frye

Could Your Town Be Next?

Their takeaways varied, but all of our sketch crawlers and scrawlers were very glad this free SCBWI event drew them together.

friendsfinalCheryl Mendenhall and Paige Billin-Frye, illustrators and friends from art school days, shared a bench, where Cheryl, who has published numerous picture books as well as magazine, and text book art, experimented with SketchBook Pro on her iPad.

figuresPaige sketched the dynamic scene:   “I was almost glad people were rushing by so quickly that all I could catch was their action.”

Puppet patterns were the focus for Karen Whiting.  Karen is the author of 19 nonfiction books, including The One Year My Princess Devotions and Faith and Courage from the Home Front, winner of the Military Writers Society of America’s gold medal. She invites everyone to join her at the first-ever Mullica Hill, NJ, book festival on June 13.  You can contact her at karen@karenwhiting.com


Joyce Judd

Joyce Judd sketched ideas for the founding of Maryland history she will be illustrating.  She and writing partner, Ellynne Davis created Breton Bay publishing to self-publish their books, which are set in the Chesapeake area. Titles so far include Halloween Fright on a Chesapeake Night and The Chesapeake Cats and the Easter Surprise.  They plan to enter in the Aviva Gittle contest.  For their next book, Joyce took home photographs and studies, some of real live Marylanders, others who sprang from her imagination.

“Just being here is a gift,” said Maria Barbella, who enjoyed a break from the demands of teaching to “practice seeing” and get back in an artistic frame of mind.

HKFinalStephanie Padgett took advantage of a rare chance to sketch scenery.  A lifelong artist and self-published author of Solomon Squirrel’s Amazing Chanukah Adventure, Stephanie recently joined SCBWI to continue her creative adventures and development.

Picture book writers Jeanne Ross and Regional
Co-RA Sue Peters
jotted down some new ideas, and got feedback on WIPs.  Jeanne, who is new to the region, visited the Tall Ship Lynx 1812, and came away with a haiku.


Mr. Snaps-A-Lot aka Jaws

Sue got an on-the-spot story critique as well as vital background information on the Venus fly trap from Illustrator Coordinator Rebecca Evans. Rebecca’s son is constantly feeding the fly trap he recently bought with his 9th birthday money.

Creepy crawlies were not the main thing on Rebecca’s mind. “I just wanted  a paint brush in my hand,” said the crawl organizer, who had just turned in the sketches for her upcoming picture book.

BeccaFinalShe rarely gets the chance to paint water, and here she is with her new Annapolis crawl WIP.

According to Rebecca, planning a sketch crawl for illustrators and writers is easy. “All I did was send an email saying, “Why don’t we meet in Annapolis on the 30th.”

Want to do a sketch crawl near your home?  Scout out a locale and contact Rebecca at rebecca@rebeccaevans.net
Who knows what you might bring home.  

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment