Category Archives: Musings

Musings and random thoughts about the writing life.

We’re All In This Together*

We’re All In This Together*

“Remember, we all stumble, every one of us. That’s why it’s a comfort to go hand in hand.”  Emily Kimbrough, author and broadcaster (1899-1989)


Before I was published I heard stories about how writers hoarded their best writing advice, or how opportunities were snatched up jealously, and the names of contacts never shared. That may be so in some writing circles, but that hasn’t been my experience in the world of children’s authors and illustrators. We tend to give our all at presentations, in our critique groups, and on our blogs, etc. I have joyfully learned at the feet of others, filled notebooks with writing advice, loved connecting folks with each other, and supporting my fellow writers. Best of all, I have met great folks and made many friends. Wherever I travel there are friends—SCBWI members in all corners of the world! We are not in this endeavor alone.

That said, sometimes I still feel there is more we can do to help each other. Below is a short list of easy things to lend a hand to our fellow writer or illustrator. What you do just might be the break a colleague needs.

  • Never just say “no.” If you’re invited to speak or present somewhere, and can’t do it, say, “I can’t, but I am sending you a list of writers (or illustrators) who might be able to. Then keep a list of folks you know who do great presentations with their contact info and webpage URLs. It only takes a few moments to copy and paste and send it with your reply.
  • When you’re at a book festival or conference, thank the organizers and let them know that you have a list of other writers, or illustrators, who might like to participate next year. And then hand them your list, or follow-up with an email. (A lot of organizers have no idea how to contact writers and illustrators. BTW: I always include links to our speaker’s bureau.)
  • Tell your local booksellers about writers in the area who have books coming out soon.
    Shutta Crum and Jonathan Rosen sharing a book launch
  • Buddy up! Do your own signings and book launches with another author. You can double the audience this way, and cross-introduce family and friends to each other’s books. Booksellers love it. Even go for three authors—make it a party! Don’t wait for the bookseller to suggest this.
  • Have an elevator pitch for the manuscripts of friends. I’ve heard of one writer who used her precious ten minutes with an editor at a conference to pitch all the manuscripts in her critique group! What a heart. The editor asked to see three manuscripts from the group.
  • Open the door for someone else. Support SCBWI scholarships. Even if you can only donate a little. Make it an annual giving, and help members who may not be able to attend otherwise.
  • Help each other by critiquing when you can. I know time is precious, and we can’t all do this, or are uncomfortable doing this, but lend a critical ear and eye if possible. This also means attending your critique group sessions even when you don’t have any of your own writing to share. Good groups thrive on giving—you should not be there just to get feedback on your own work.
  • Use your social media to advertise the books, awards, and successes of others—not just your own. Share FB posts and retweet often! Spread the good word beyond your own circle of family and friends. How hard is it to push that “share” button?
  • And don’t hoard information about writing/illustrating opportunities, online classes, agents, editors, pitch parties, spur-of-the-moment markets, freebies, etc. Sometimes these kinds of opportunities come and go too quickly to make it into the Bulletin or chapter newsletters. No miserliness allowed! Push that “share” button on Facebook (It’s easy!), and use group emails for like-minded friends.
  • Finally, of course, volunteer as you are able. We all know that life happens, and what available time we have gets co-opted quickly. But every little bit helps. (And remember to thank our volunteers whenever you see them. Thanks, Leslie, Carrie and the whole AdCom board! We couldn’t do what we do without you.)

Grab a friend by the hand, and let’s get going!!!


(NOTE: This article was first published in THE MITTEN, the Michigan SCBWI newsletter, January, 2018.)

Wielding the Right Words (and the right journals)

Wielding the Right Words (and the right journals)

hand writing Here’s the link to a new article I’ve written for Michigan’s SCBWI PAL newsletter about how words have their own personalities. And it’s also about how utilizing targeted journals is much more helpful than general journaling. (At least for me!)

It’s here:



The Wonders of Mud

The Wonders of Mud

I lay down my copy of Discover magazine, go outside and I kick off my lime green Crocs. I’m not tiptoeing through the tulips, but flat footing it into my weed-choked gardens. My feet break through the pale, sun-warmed upper crust to sink into the moist lower layers. No wonder dirt is good for you—it’s the color of dark chocolate.

I’ve always known that most of my gardening friends are “laid-back.” I never knew the reason why until today. Discover magazine reports that according to a new study a harmless soil bacterium, Mycobacterium vaccae (M. vaccae), causes serotonin to be released in the brain. The study (“Identification of an Immune-Responsive Mesolimbocortical Serotonergic System: Potential Role in Regulation of Emotional Behavior,” by Christopher Lowry et al. Originally published in Neuroscience.) indicates that inhaling M. vaccae while working in the garden, or walking, can create a better mood and lighten depression much the way Prozac does.

This makes me, as a children’s writer, think back to making mud pies with my friends and siblings. Was it M. vaccae working on our brains that made those times so memorable and fun? I loved mixing up the dirt and water in a metal washtub we had. Then reaching into the cool mixture, we’d grab handfuls. And Oh! How satisfying it was—the feel of slapping a patty of soft mud from hand to hand, shaping it in the small curve of a palm—cool, rounded, perfect mud. Then we’d slam it down—splat!—on top of our makeshift kitchen counter (two boards over a stone barbecue pit Dad had built in the backyard).

It wasn’t easy to get them perfectly shaped. Often you had to add just a pinch or two more dirt to get the right consistency to hold the burger-shaped patties together. Sometimes we’d decorate with sprigs of grass, a flower, or something plucked from Mom’s garden.

We never made any money selling our mud pies, or our tree seeds (locust pods), or lemonade, for that matter. It wasn’t for trying. We would hold up signs and wave at the cars that went by our cardboard box-and-plank storefronts. Mostly what we collected were honks from the neighbors, and smiles as others waved back at us.

When the weather was really hot, we’d simply step into the cool mud in the washtub and began squishing it up through our toes. It was divine. (And not unlike the joy I felt many years later stomping grapes when my husband and I made our own wine.)

Much of the mud stayed between our toes, despite my mother’s earnest attempts at scrubbing us until we shined. There were four of us. And the minute she finished bathing one and started on another, the clean one would run outside in pajamas to jump about barefoot under the evening sky. Somehow, we always managed to go to bed with dirty toes.

It didn’t kill us. In fact, my siblings and I have been extraordinarily healthy. So today, as I bend to weed around my plants, I am again barefoot. I breathe in deeply, trying to get a big dose of M. vaccae. My feet have sunk in the cool earth; the dark, rich dirt has squeezed up through my toes. I am happy.

(Photo of feet c/o

Be happy, go outside!