"Peer Review"

By Lana Wayne Koehler

Squirrels. The bane of my existence! They have been a part of my life ever since we moved to our home over 20 years ago. Kent State University once did an experiment with black squirrels and, when they were done, set them loose on the community. Because of that, we are overrun with black squirrels, grey squirrels with black tails, and every combination you can think of. 
I love to sit and watch them play in my yard—until they dig up my flowers to plant their nuts or do some other destructive activity. Yet, somehow, they intrigue me enough to keep watching.
When Michelle Barnes asked Julie Fogliano for a May challenge on Today’s Little Ditty (https://michellehbarnes.blogspot.com), she suggested that we look out our window and write a poem about what we see.
So I wrote about squirrels.
By Lana Wayne Koehler
With their
Chattering, climbing, jumping,
The way they leave hickory nut shells
On the previously white railing
Scampering up to my window
To peer into my life
Like I peer into theirs
Waiting for me
To watch them
© 2018 Lana Wayne Koehler. All rights reserved.

Scarlet's Magic Paintbrush by Melissa Stoller

We're delighted to welcome Melissa Stoller to the Six Pens blog to share about the process of writing her new picture book, Scarlet's Magic Paintbrush, illustrated by Sandie Sonke. Read on to learn more about Melissa and her beautiful book!

By Melissa Stoller

I’m delighted to be here with you Lisa, to discuss my magical debut picture book, SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH (Clear Fork Publishing, August 2018). Illustrator Sandie Sonke (www.sandiesonkeillustration.com) is an incredible artist and I’m thrilled that we’re collaborating on this book.

Gathering the Idea and Writing the Manuscript:

Here’s a bit of background about the book’s journey. Although I’m not an artist, I love art history and spending time in museums. A few years ago, I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, gazing at paintings by my favorite artists, the French Impressionists. I wondered, what would it be like to paint like an Impressionist? And I thought to myself, I wish I had a magic paintbrush so I could paint like that. And the idea for SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH was born.

I remember brainstorming the idea. I asked myself many questions:

What if a little girl really did have a magic paintbrush? What would she paint? Would the paintings be perfect? How would she feel about that? And then, what would happen if she lost the magic paintbrush? Could she ever paint again? Would her creativity take over? And, what if she found the magic paintbrush?

In answering these questions, I wrote my first draft. Then I revised, revised, revised. I firmly believe that the true story is revealed during revisions. My critique partners were invaluable throughout the whole process. And several classes along the way were also truly helpful as I developed my craft, including The Children’s Book Academy “Craft and Business of Writing Children’s Picture Books,” “Making Picture Book Magic,” and “Inked Voices” workshops.

From Manuscript to Book:

Time passed, and I found myself in another museum, The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. I was enjoying a special day with Callie Metler-Smith, founder of Clear Fork Publishing, who published and illustrated my debut chapter book, THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND. I mentioned that I was working on a picture book inspired by my love of art and art history, and Callie liked the idea and ultimately the manuscript!

Enter the marvelous Mira Reisberg, founder of the Children’s Book Academy and Editor and Art Director at Clear Fork Publishing. Mira, aka the Picture Book Whisperer, is my incredible editor and art director for this project. And she brilliantly paired me with the very talented illustrator Sandie Sonke, who is bringing this story to life.

I’ve had several sneak peaks into Sandie’s process and I can’t wait to share the whole book. I just love the cover - it is truly enchanted! I hope children enjoy the story and the art and I know the book will sprinkle a bit of magical creativity throughout the world.

Thanks again Lisa, for allowing me the opportunity to showcase my debut book and Sandie’s beautiful cover!

Melissa’s Bio:

Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection - Book One: Return to Coney Island and Book Two: The Liberty Bell Train Ride (Clear Fork Publishing, 2017 and Summer 2018); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla! (Clear Fork, Summer and Fall, 2018). She is also the co-author of The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting With Your Kids Through Reading (HorizonLine Publishing, 2009). 

Melissa is an Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, an Admin for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, and a volunteer with SCBWI/MetroNY. Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. Additionally, she is a member of the Board of Trustees at The Hewitt School and at Temple Shaaray Tefila. Melissa lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy. When not writing or reading, she can be found exploring NYC with family and friends, traveling, and adding treasures to her collections.

Connect with Melissa:

Writing: A Focus on Intent

By Gloria G. Adams

As a freelance editor, I find myself increasingly asking clients, “What is your intent for writing this book? What is it that you want to say and what do you want your main character to be like at the end?” 

For some books, it’s obvious. But I’ve edited a lot of them for which I was unsure of the intent. Enough to make me realize how important it is and how often it’s not been thought through.
Though there are many areas where intent is something to address, such as target audience or fitting into a niche market, I want to concentrate on two that I think are most important in the writing of the story. As a writer, I know that I want to answer these two questions for every story I write:

  • What is my intent for my main character?
  • What is my intent for my reader?

The main character travels on a journey through books and stories, whether it is physical or emotional. In order to make this journey meaningful, the writer needs to be aware of who his character is at the beginning of the book and who he wants him/her to be at the end of the book. Will he be more confident, empathetic, learn a lesson, make amends for mistakes? 

Create a picture of your character in your head; write it down in a notebook or on note cards or in Word or Scrivener…whatever works for you. The most important thing is to understand and maintain focus on the end goal for your characters and to make sure you fulfill that goal.

The other concern is that you know what you want your reader to take away from your story. Clarify this in your head and keep asking yourself, “Am I giving my reader what I planned? Is it enough to keep him reading?”

J. K. Rowling supposedly wrote the ending to the Harry Potter books long before the first one was published. She knew where she wanted to take the story.

When you are thinking about your intent for the reader, these should be the most important goals:

  • To keep the reader engaged in the story.
  • To make the reader care about your character and about your character’s journey or goals.
  • To deliver on promises you make. (Solve the mystery, resolve the love triangle, etc.)

Because it’s always about the reader. Without readers, we have no audience for our work. We must make sure we are writing with the intent to satisfy the reader and to give him or her a story worth reading and characters to whom he/she can relate.

Are you writing with intent?

In addition to writing for children and contributing to this blog, Gloria is co-founder with writer, Jean Daigneau, of Two-4-One KidCritiques, a critique editing service that offers two critiques for the price of one. www.two4onekidcritques.com.

Reading for Research Month (ReFoReMo)

By Gloria Reichert

Last year, at the recommendation of a friend, I participated in Reading for Research Month for the first time. This helpful educational experience introduced me to multitudes of picture books I probably would not have discovered otherwise. Daily posts by leaders in the picture book field and lists of mentor texts guided my growth as an author and challenged me to apply these new ideas to my own writing.  

Since ReFoReMo was such a positive experience for me, I wanted to acquaint others with this opportunity. Carrie Charley Brown and Kirsti Call, coordinators of ReFoReMo, graciously accepted my request to answer questions about ReFoReMo. Their thoughtful answers will inform you about ReFoReMo and give registration information.


What exactly is ReFoReMo? How did the concept for ReFoReMo originate?

Carrie: The Reading for Research Month Challenge, or ReFoReMo, is a month-long craft-focused challenge for writers of all ages that utilizes picture books as mentor texts to learn more about stellar craft.  As an educator, I knew how much stellar picture books impacted the writing process for elementary students. As a picture book writer, looking back on my extensive study of mentor texts and a goal to continue this habit as new releases came out, I wanted to share this study with others. But it wasn’t until my participation as a 2014 CYBILS fiction picture book panelist that the idea for ReFoReMo occurred to me. I read hundreds of picture books in 1.5 shorts months and felt the impact of what separated the great from the not-so-great. I noticed that even writers of any level could benefit from focused mentor text study. It was then that the idea of ReFoReMo was born! After the inaugural year in 2015, I assessed the unexpected overwhelming response and teamed up with my writing partner, Kirsti Call, to handle the challenge as a partnership. 

Kirsti: I’m grateful that Carrie invited me to help with ReFoReMo.  There is nothing better than working with my writing partner on something as important as writing good books!  As a published picture book author and CYBILS panelist myself, I’ve read and studied hundreds of picture books in short periods of time and it makes a huge difference in my ability to write well.  Reading stellar books really helps us write stellar books. 

 When does ReFoReMo occur, and how is it handled?

The ReFoReMo challenge takes place every March.  Through daily educational posts written by authors, illustrators, educators, and publishing professionals, paired with lists of mentor text recommendations that reinforce specific craft elements, participants receive an entire month of varying perspectives that many participants have compared to a master-level craft class. We strive to post a list of our presenters’ recommendations before the challenges begins, so people will be ready to read and study the mentor texts as they read the posts. Participants range from writers and illustrators of all levels of experience to classroom teachers and their students and librarians.
Registration opens on February 19 this year, with specific instructions in a blog post at www.reforemo.com. Participants will receive the daily posts in their inbox when they sign up for the blog. It is a free challenge and there is a Facebook discussion group for participants to share study thoughts. 

How does one become involved with ReFoReMo?
As mentioned above, registrations for the ReFoReMo challenge begin in February, but you can participate in ReFoReMo all year by subscribing to our blog, and joining our facebook group.  We post something about picture books every week during months outside of March.  

What should participants expect?

Here’s the general schedule for this year:
March 1-2 ~PREPARATION PERIOD~ with Carrie Charley Brown and Kirsti Call
Participants will read preparation posts that will help them get the most out of the challenge. They will reserve library books while reflecting on their own manuscripts and needs. Participants will need a library card and a willingness to seek out books.

Guest presenters will offer craft perspective and mentor text recommendations for participants through daily blog posts. Participants will read & research writing craft through the recommended mentor texts and any others that may relate to their own manuscripts.

Participants will relate what they have learned to their own manuscripts & share with others on our blog and in our Facebook discussion group. 

What do you want participants to take away from ReFoReMo?

We want others to benefit from developing a regular research habit. There is deep research waiting underneath great mentor texts that we can learn a lot from. We hope that participants gain a greater appreciation for this process and learn about their own writing by recognizing what they love in other people’s books.   

What has been your most rewarding experience resulting from your involvement with ReFoReMo?

Carrie: Hearing that our mentor text study has inspired others and helped our participants grow as creatives is a huge reward for a labor of love. An a-ha feels so good! I love coming together as a community to share what we discover through mentor texts. The blog posts start as the inspiration behind the research and the community reacts through comments and discussion to promote learning as they read. Wonderful connections result and people have even come together to study in person outside of our group. The act of challenging yourself to read so many books (approximately 120 in one month) is no small task. But with community support, it makes all the difference.

Kirsti: What I love about ReFoReMo is the actual challenge itself!  It’s like a masterclass!!!  I also love the connections that I’ve made with writers, librarians, agents and editors through helping with coordination.  I love Reading for Research simply because I love reading, and I love writing and this challenge is the best of both worlds.


Now that you possess all this wonderful information about ReFoReMo, I hope you will consider participating. I can’t wait to read the picture books and to see what new things I will learn!
Thank you, Carrie and Kirsti, for taking the time to answer my questions and for all you do to help picture book authors and illustrators.

If you live in Northeast Ohio, you might be interested in the following opportunity offered at the Parma Snow Branch of the Cuyahoga County Library. 

Every March, authors Carrie Charley Brown and Kirsti Call lead an online picture book challenge called Reading for Research Month, or ReFoReMo. The goal of the challenge is to encourage writers of all ages to learn from picture books as mentor texts. You are invited to consult and discuss picture books in-person with volunteer Carole Calladine, ReFoReMo fan. Free discussions will take place over our Sunday afternoons: February 25, March 11, March 25, and April 8, from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm at the Parma Snow Library (216-661-4240). For more information on formal ReFoReMo workshops, contact Carrie Charley Brown at carriebrown@carriecharleybrown.com.


Writing Goals: How to Stay on Track in the New Year

By Gloria G. Adams

Most people start out a new year setting goals. Most of us never accomplish all that we desire. Here are some ways to stay on track with your writing goals this coming year.

1.      Set realistic goals. 

It’s too easy to take on more projects than you can reasonably accomplish, or accomplish well in one year. (Me: guilty as charged!) You know yourself best; gauge how much you normally get done over the course of a week, then set your goals a little lower to begin. If you find you’re having no problem meeting the small ones, increase them little by little. Small successes will give you the confidence to do more, but don’t overdo and make yourself stressed and frustrated.  

2.      Write down your goals and keep track of when you accomplish them.
Use planners, print or digital, to keep track of your writing times and dates. Celebrate your progress every month or every week or even every day. You may be amazed at how much you actually are able to accomplish when you see it in black and white. 

Check out our calendar planner made just for writers from Two-4-One Kid Critiques. Available on Amazon. https://tinyurl.com/y7w9d8ek 

3.      Set regular writing times weekly or daily. 
We are creatures of habit; get into the habit of writing at the same time, for the same amount of time every day and it should soon become a habit.

4.      Break big projects into smaller tasks. 
If you are planning to write a 60,000-word novel, break it into smaller sections so you don’t find yourself overwhelmed. Set dates by which you want to finish the first draft of each section. If you don’t meet those, re-group, and set new dates.

5.      Join programs that make deadlines for you. 
Look into projects like NaNoWriMo or the 12 x 12 Challenge to give you incentives and deadlines. Or, set your own deadlines. Maybe you even want to start your own program to help yourself and other writers stay on track. Any ideas?

 6.      Engage others. 
Ask the members of your writer’s group or groups to help you stay on track. Find a group if you don’t already belong to one. Critique groups are invaluable. Commit to being accountable to your group members, or even just one member, to whom you can be specifically accountable; offer to be his or her “accountabilibuddy,” too.

7.      Find a “no-distraction” zone in which to write. 

Lock yourself away in a home office if you have one or go to a library or similar quiet place to write. Distractions will drain your time more than you realize.

8.      Write the end first.
 Write the end of your novel or series, or the twist at the end of your picture book first. If you know where you’re headed, it will help to keep you focused.

Gloria G. Adams and Jean Daigneau are partners in a critique editing service, Two-4-One Kid Critiques. They offer TWO critique edits for the price of one, plus a collaborative summation. They specialize in picture books and middle grade novels, but consider other works on a project by project basis. Check out their rates and other information at www.two4onekidcritiques.com. Or, contact them at two4onekidcritiques@gmail.com.