Who we are? Then and now?

This is Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton and I thought you all might enjoy a little back story on the members of Six Pens.

When did you first get the itch to be a writer?

Laurie: I got hooked on writing in fifth grade. In ninth grade I had a very encouraging teacher, but it wasn’t until I became a kindergarten teacher that I decided to try my hand at writing.

What I didn’t do initially was my homework. I assumed that because I read multiple stories to my
children daily that I would automatically be able to write. So, my first story had two main characters, two main points of view, and the plot was meager at best.

What I learned was I needed to go back and educate myself. I attended classes, workshops, conferences and read every how-to book I could get my hands on. Probably the best three resources for my education were: attending a Highlights Writer’s Conference, initiated by Kent Brown, joining The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and reading every How To Write For Children book available.

As a result of attending events I found the networking, the encouragement, the critiques, the speakers, the rejections all worked together for my eventual success. It took me a total of 12 years of stumbling, educating myself, participating in critiques, classes, and conferences, submitting, and receiving piles of rejections before I finally accomplished my first published book, Why Cowboys Sleep With Their Boots On, Pelican Publishing, 1994. Since then I have had 62 titles published in the trade, craft, educational, Christian, and work-for-hire markets.

What advice do you have for people wanting to become writers?

Laurie: 1. My best advice is to educate yourself. Read, read, read!

2. Attend every conference, workshop, library speaker, in your genre that you can afford to participate in.

3.Allow your work to be critiqued. Do not defend your work. Listen. Then incorporate what rings true to you.

4. Be tenacious. Do not give up when you receive a bad critique, or another rejection. Listen, learn and keep moving forward. The people who make it in the field do not give up.

Best part of being an author?

Laurie: When I see a child listening to or reading one of my books.

Worst part of being an author?

Laurie: Having books go out of print.


Gloria G. Adams

When did you first get the itch to be a writer?

Gloria: As a kid, I always had my nose in a book. The local library was practically my second home and authors were my heroes. I dreamed about becoming a writer when I grew up and even majored in English in college. But I was steered away from writing as a career and ended up eventually becoming a children’s librarian.

I loved my library career! But I never lost my dream of becoming a writer. I made up a lot of my own stories for story hour and, as I read picture books to my preschoolers, hoped that someday a librarian would be reading books in story hour that were written by me.

I was fortunate to have my dream come true! But getting there was a long journey. I remember thinking that it would be easy to write picture books since I had read so many over the years as a librarian. Boy, was I wrong!

 I had a lot of learning to do. I took writing courses, read books on writing, joined SCBWI and was fortunate to find not one, but two critique groups with amazing authors. One of them started as a mentoring group led by prolific author, Laurie Knowlton, from whom I have learned so much. And of course, I wrote and rewrote and…well, I’m still learning, taking webinars, reading articles, and writing and rewriting. I’ve found that the writing community is all about sharing, teaching, and encouraging.

I have a great agent and have been published traditionally as well as independently through my self-publishing company, Slanted Ink. I also started a critique editing company with a partner, author Jean Daigneau, called Two-4-One Kid Critiques.

What advice do you have for people wanting to become writers? 

Gloria: Learn all you can, not just about writing, but about the publishing business. Join writing/critique groups and professional associations. Read the kinds of books you want to write and practice, practice, practice.

Best part of being an author? 

Gloria: Seeing my books on the shelf at the library where I used to work, finding out that one of my books helped my great nephew with his reading, and finally being able to say, “I’m an author.”

Worst part of being an author?

The frustration of having editors want your book, but then the book getting turned down by the acquisition department.


https://www.gloriagadams.com/  and  https://www.slantedink.com/


Lisa Amstutz

When did you first get the itch to be a writer?

Lisa: I always loved to read and kept a journal intermittently as a kid, but never thought about writing until I was in my 20s. Then I proceeded to read every book in three local libraries about writing. However, it took me 10 years to work up the courage to submit something for publication. Once I finally started, I wrote for magazines and the local newspaper for several years before venturing into books. In 2009, I discovered the world of children’s writing and haven’t looked back! 

What advice do you have for people wanting to become writers?

Lisa: Don’t let fears and insecurities keep you from your dreams. Do your homework – go to the library, take classes if you can, and look for resources online to help you learn the craft of writing and understand how the market works. And don’t give up – the first stories you write may never sell, but each one will teach you something. Writing is a journey, not a sprint. 

Best part of being an author?

Lisa: Connecting with readers is definitely the best part!

Worst part of being an author?

Lisa: Rejections. But they are just part of the process for a working writer.


Kate Carroll

When did you first get the itch to be a writer? 

Kate:  I can’t say exactly when I wanted to BE a writer, but it was always my favorite subject, next to reading. I pursued a career in elementary education and found myself writing supplemental stories for my struggling second grade readers and penning plays for my class to perform. I didn’t think of it as writing, but more of way for my students to succeed at learning.
One fall, I needed cce credits, so, I randomly took an online class on creative writing.  That was the first time I realized writing was more than a solo activity. The professor encouraged us to share homework, support each other and join professional organizations like SCBWI. Which is what I did, and which is where I met my fabulous fellow pens. 
That first SCBWI conference caught me swimming in water way over my head. But I didn’t care, I was hooked. Slowly, I began to understand the challenges of writing for children. In fact, my first ever critique was a disaster. I think the editor was as stunned and didn’t have much to say except to tell me that most of my story was missing!  Shaken but undaunted, I kept diving into the deep to learn the lessons of plot, character development, climax, theme.  I never stopped believing that I could produce some publishable work. 
Five years later, I sold to Cricket Magazine, followed by Highlights and Faces Magazines, I picked up credits and the courage to keep going, to keep studying the craft, to keep tapping into the world around me and to lean on my kid lit crew. Even as an agented writer, my work ethic remains the same. My picture book hopes loom large… stay tuned for that big news!

What advice do you have for people wanting to become writers?

Kate: Study the craft. Whether you want to write picture books, middle grade or YA, learn everything you can about the genre. Read books, dissect them and repeat. 
Develop a community – even if it is only one fellow writer. Be brave. Have a thick skin. It will help your manuscript in ways you can't imagine.
Be patient! Success rarely happens overnight.

Best part of being an author? 

Kate: I love that my writing can be an unforgettable part of a child’s life.

Worst part of being an author?

Kate: Not having the time to write when I get an idea brewing in my head.



Lana Wayne Koehler

When did you first get the itch to be a writer?

 Lana: I always remember writing but never thought about doing it professionally until I wanted to share a particular story that I had written. I attended a writer’s group at my community library and read my story. I got what I now know was a kind reception and from there, caught the bug to improve.

I began to hang out with other writers and listen to their stories of encouragement and defeat and
realized that I knew nothing about the craft that I wanted to pursue.

From there, I joined writer’s groups and local organizations like SBWI. I began to attend classes and conferences and met many others who had a thirst for learning more about writing. I had finally found my people!

I went to a Highlights retreat in Honesdale, PA, and began to really work at my craft. There, I met editors, agents, and fellow writers and learned how to hone the craft I was starting to understand.

What advice do you have for people wanting to become writers?

Lana: Read what you want to write. See what others have done with your genre. Research your subject matter. Become an expert in every story you want to write.

Best part of being an author?

Lana: Sharing what I have learned by writing what people want to read and meeting those readers! I once asked a little boy what his favorite animal was from my book about allergies and he said, “The rabbit.” My book didn’t have a rabbit in it. I found, after close inspection, my illustrator had included a rabbit on the cover. Always trust your readers opinions!

Worst part of being an author?

Lana: Putting time into a project and not finding an editor who was interested. It can be hard to remain optimistic and persistent in the face of rejection.


Gloria Reichert

When did you first get the itch to be a writer?

Gloria Reichert: I am not sure I can precisely pinpoint when I realized I wanted to write. It seemed to evolve. In high school, I had to write a theme every week for four years, and during college, as an education major, I was always writing something. My last quarter I had 14 papers to write! Writing was a part of my life. My desire to write for children became apparent during my teaching career. Using picture books as part of my teaching made me realize and appreciate the value of this genre. I came to regard them as little books with big ideas. I remember stating to my students that one of my goals was to write picture books. I still have a thank you note written by one of my students at the end of the year. In the note, she wishes me good luck in writing picture books.

Once I left teaching, my first step in my quest to write for children was to contact the local library to see what direction they could give me. They suggested I contact the wonderful Laurie Knowlton. (Actually, I remembered her, since she had taught a workshop I attended as a teacher.) When I spoke to Laurie all those years ago, she advised me to join The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and to educate myself by reading books on the craft of writing. I took her advice and participated in workshops of all kinds and did all I could to hone my talents. Educating myself as a writer continues to this day.

What advice do you have for people wanting to become writers?

Gloria Reichert: Those who wish to become writers should educate themselves and find a critique group. It is also important to keep reading, not only books in the genre in which they wish to write but also current adult writing. Never give up. Be persistent. There is not one published author who ever gave up.

I also think it is important not to compare yourself to other authors. All of our roads to being published are different. Our uniqueness will eventually make our work stand out.

Best part of being an author?

Gloria Reichert: I appreciate having fun when creating, wordsmithing, and challenging myself to make my manuscripts better. I also appreciate knowing that my words have the potential to change a child’s life for the better in some way. As I have participated in workshops, conferences, classes. and critiques, I’ve met many other authors and illustrators who are among the kindest, nicest, people in the world.

Worst part of being an author?

Gloria Reichert: To me, rejections and all the time it takes to hear from editors are among the worst parts of being an author.



For the Love of Words


                                                                  Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton

From just 26 letters the English language has developed well over a million words. Forming those words into meaningful content that evokes a response from a reader is what keeps writers up at night. Those words wheedle their way in our minds poking and prodding us to get up and write that idea before it floats off into the great beyond.

Yes, words are our tools, but not just any word. It must be the right word. The strongest word.  The most visual word. The most sensual word. The most active word. All the pieces and parts words: nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections.

Sounds overwhelming, but those words, oh, how we love them. They are part of every task we partake in when we are not actually writing: in the laundry room as we fold clothes, in the shower as we wash our hair, at the stop light when a car in front of you rocks from their music. The words circling in our brains are louder. They demand we write them down. 

The answer? Be prepared. Make sure your words have a safety net waiting for their delivery. Hang an erase board in your laundry room.  Write the words in the steam on the shower door. Dictate to your phone in the car. Keep a note book and pencil next to your bed. Keep a magnetic pad on your refrigerator. Have a chalk board in the garden. For the love of words, make sure where ever you are you have what you need to capture those flighty words before they float away. Those lovely words may just lead you to the next New York Best Book of the Year!

Meet Michelle Houts

 by Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton

I'd like to welcome Michelle Houts to the Six Pens Blog!

Michelle is a fellow, award-winning Ohio author who has a new book coming out in August of 2023, Hopefully the Scarecrow. We are excited to help her celebrate!

Here's a sneak peek at the cover:

Michelle, tell us about HOPEFULLY THE SCARECROW.

Hopefully the Scarecrow (by Michelle Houts, illustrated by Sara Palacios) releases August 8, 2023 from Flamingo Books (Penguin Random House). It tells the story of a scarecrow who is kept company by a girl who visits his garden with piles of books. She reads aloud, filling his head with stories and adventures. When the girl stops coming to the garden, the scarecrow finds himself alone and helpless. But throughout adversity, he remains hopeful. Hopefully the Scarecrow is a story of friendship and hope.

 What was your inspiration for the book?

While working as an elementary school speech-language pathologist, I observed children whose life circumstances left them uncertain about their futures. As very young children, they had very little agency and no ability to change their situations. I wanted to write a story for anyone who needs hope. And who has less control over their situation than a scarecrow, stuck to a pole and left out in the elements? Like Hopefully the Scarecrow, I want children to see that even when things seem bleak, there’s always hope that the sun will shine again.

 Michelle, what are your thoughts on Sara Palacio’s illustrations?

When I saw Sara Palacios’s sketches, I adored Hopefully and his young friend. But, when I got my first glimpse of the finished art, I was completely in love! Sara has created a fabulously rich garden, alive with vibrant color and a wonderful southern feeling that I’ve never seen in a scarecrow story. Her art leads the reader right into Hopefully’s imagination, where kings and dragons and, most especially, hope live.

Thanks, Michelle for sharing your latest book with us. We are excited and looking froward to purchasing this heartwarming tale of friendship and hope in all of our lives. You can preorder from your favorite bookseller or follow this link: Hopefully the Scarecrow a book by Michelle Houts and Sara Palacios (bookshop.org)

 Michelle has published 13 titles. 
Here are a few of my favorites: 

COUNT THE WINGS, a middle grade biography about Ohio artist Charlie Harper.
SEAGLASS  SUMMER, a picture book.
LUCY'S LAB, a chapter book series.
published in 2009.

Her books can be found at in-person bookstores or online here https://bookshop.org/contributors/michelle-houts.


    Check out Michelle's website:https://michellehouts.com/





Author Quotes for the New Year

                  (Share your favorite author quotes in the comments! Happy New Year!)


'You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.' – Annie Proulx

'Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.' – Stephen King

'We are all broken, that's how the light gets in.' – Ernest Hemingway

'You can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page.' 

– Jodi Picoult

'If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.' 

– Margaret Atwood

What will you write this year?


 from all of us at A Song of Six Pens 

Gloria G. Adams   
Lisa Amstuz

Kate Carroll     Laurie Knowlton

Lana Koehler    Gloria Reichert

We've put together some gift ideas for readers, writers, and book lovers everywhere! Enjoy!


Check out LITERARY GIFTS like jewelry, clothing or even temporary tattoos on sites such as Etsy, Pinterest, Out of Print, and The Literary Gift Company.

Who wouldn't love to have their own personalized BOOK EMBOSSER?



 Or, how about giving your favorite writer or voracious   reader the gift of TIME? Offer to babysit, house sit, or pet   sit while they get away to write or read.

Writers love to take WRITING COURSES and WEBINARS!  The Storyteller Academy, Reedsy, and Writer's Digest are just a few great resources.

    Our favorite gifts, of course, are BOOKS!
Check out this great website for a list of some of the 
best books on writing for children


Happy Holidays!



Meet Becky Gehrisch, owner of Bookling Media

 by Gloria Reichert

   Becky Gehrisch     

       After meeting Becky Gehrisch at the recent SCBWI: Ohio North Conference, I was fascinated that she has established a publishing company called Bookling Media. I had all sorts of questions about how one goes about doing such a thing and thought readers of this blog might also find such information useful, especially those who are authors/illustrators. Becky graciously agreed to be  interviewed. I hope you enjoy meeting her and learning about her company.

       Becky is the Creative Director at Bookling Media LLC, an independent press redefining the kidlit publishing industry, book by book! Bookling Media focuses on picture books created by author-illustrators. Passionate about art, Becky has an art degree from The Ohio State University and has served as the Illustrator Coordinator for the Central and Southern Ohio chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

 Becky, what inspired you to write and illustrate your first book?

As a kid, I loved seek-in-find aspects to illustrations and details in picture books. When I was in middle school, my art class had an opportunity to submit a picture book through a nationwide Written and Illustrated program. I won Honorable Mention! The thrill of creating a physical book to call my own was satisfying. My name was on a book –how cool is that?!

I then went to The Ohio State University to study painting and drawing. I was drawn (pun intended) to Norman Rockwell and other illustrators. I loved art that told a playful, childlike story. After graduating, I took time away from the fine arts and relocated to the countryside. There, I was newly inspired to pick up my paintbrush and make a fun illustration of three dogs playing in a bathtub!

At OSU, I almost minored in Art History. Remembering dates and names was a challenge but I was intrigued by how art changed throughout time. Because of this, I included fun art facts about art styles in the back material of Escape to Play. Creating classic art on the pages for kids to find and then read about later was a blast! I loved the interactive aspect this is for kids.

I absolutely needed, in my core, to create a fun book that allowed kids to enjoy detailed illustrations! I loved the process of creating each chaotic scene for the dogs to explore which then evolved into a story. Adding the easy-to-read poem tied everything together.

Who are some author/illustrators you admire?

Wow! So many. Here are some in no particular order: Wanda Gág, Jan Brett, Dan Santat, Brian Lies, Brendan Wenzel, Peter Brown, Ryan T. Higgins, and many others! They all have such a unique and mastered illustrative style. The reason their books stand out to me is because of their storytelling power through the marriage of the words and images. I often love the humorously written ones best but a beautiful, touching story is quite captivating, too!

What led you to found Bookling Media? How will it be different from other publishers?

I saw a need in the industry to create Bookling Media through my own experiences as an author-illustrator and through my involvement with SCBWI. I realized how terrible the traditional publishing experience has been for many creators, not just when submitting manuscripts to publishers, but also after their books were published.

I saw friends powerless to market their books and take control of their own success due to their publishers’ policies and contract restrictions. I knew there had to be a better way. So, a plan emerged! I wanted to create a new kind of publishing company that is known for high-quality picture books while also respecting the creators and allowing author-illustrators to remain in control of their intellectual property rights.

What will you do if you receive a manuscript that is beautifully illustrated but poorly written? Or, vice versa?

I feel that a manuscript with great illustrations but poorly written is easier to adjust and mold into a polished piece. We can always develop a story. It would be harder to keep the essence of

the art in a collaboration with another illustrator. If the meat of the story is unique, the rest can follow.

If a manuscript is written well but the creator lacks in artistic skill, it will be hard to move forward. I strive for high quality, especially in the illustrations, and a picture book should reflect that. I have already received some manuscripts which have great illustrations, so I’m confident that the next book that Bookling Media releases will be beautiful!

Can you share some details about your Bookling Media? How will you promote and distribute your books? Do authors receive royalties? Will you use freelance or in-house editors? etc.

There is a lot to cover here! Relationships are everything, and that is the value that Bookling Media brings to the table for our creators. My team consists of industry professionals that either have their own businesses or freelance. It works well because we can get experienced professionals such as editors, designers, proofreaders, and typesetters to work on our projects on a fractional basis. We use offset printing instead of print-on-demand to give us the highest degree of creative control and quality.

When the book is ready, we run a presale campaign to help cover the initial costs of publication and printing. Working closely with the creator, we put together a launch team and marketing plan for the presale. Our relationship with our distributor lets us make our titles available through Baker & Taylor for libraries, Ingram for independent bookstores, Barnes &Noble, Amazon, and even Walmart.com to name a few.

We provide marketing support to drive sales, and our creators make a percentage of every book that Bookling Media sells, either directly or through distribution. Unfortunately, the middlemen and retailers take a large cut. Where our creators can make the most money is author events and school visits.

We have built a toolkit to help creators market themselves and host successful events. We make copies of their book available to them at deeply discounted prices so that they can sell directly at their events or on their own website. Our authors enjoy access to our marketing coaching and materials, as well as the freedom to sell and market their books as they see fit.

What kind of books do you like to read?

This is the toughest question! I love a variety of genres, but I really enjoy picture books and a good, historical fiction!

What book has influenced you the most?

I received a chapter book, Half Magic, from my aunt when I was a kid. It was by Edward Eager and originally published in 1954. This was the first book that I could read with minimal illustrations, and it struck a chord in me. Merging the magical and every-day of four children, was intriguing.

My mind was full of the images that inspired me to create my own magical scenes. In 2019 I drew a ghostly girl and did not connect the association somehow to the cover of Half Magic! The cover art is a part of my subconscious it seems!

What was your most unusual or funny experience as an author/illustrator?

What a great question! At an elementary school visit I asked what tools might be needed to make a picture book. One answer was interesting. The boy said, “a saw!” I wasn’t sure how to respond to that one, so I just said, “Sure, cutting large stacks of paper needs a sharp cutter almost like a saw!” Kids say the funniest things.

I have found that kids love coming up to my 18” mouse puppet, Norman. They want to hug him and pet him. This is more sweet than funny, but I enjoy those moments with young readers. It is amusing when kids want my autograph – in pencil – on their writing notebooks.

What work do you wish you had written and illustrated?

Anything illustrated by David Wiesner or created by Dan Santat – just wow! They have been extremely inspirational to me in my art and illustrations. The dynamic way they lay out their illustrations is amazing.

What is one piece of advice you would give to author/illustrators?

I love the advice to be cautious of taking too much advice. However, there is one piece of advice that I feel strongly about - study your craft. If your craft is writing and illustrating, take serious time to hone each. This will make a world of difference in submitting your work and in the end, selling it!

*Short and Sweet:

Pantser or Plotter? Both! Mostly pantser!

Guilty Food Pleasure? Ice cream!

Favorite Hobby? Painting and light hiking.

Dog or Cat Person? Cat currently. Maybe all those years of mischievous dogs wore me down!

Who would you like to have dinner with (living or dead)? David Wiesner. His illustrations are amazing, and I would love to know more about how his brain works.

Do you do your best work in the morning, afternoon, or evening? Evening. If I could, I’d work from 12pm-4pm and 8pm-12am.

   Since Bookling Media’s start in 2020, Becky has built and led the team through the publication of their premiere title and is now announcing national distribution! Bookling Media has also opened submissions for author-illustrators to submit their manuscripts for publication.

Check out the submission guidelines here: https://www.booklingmedia.com/submissions

Five Ways to Know That Your Manuscript is Ready to Submit

 by Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton


1.     Does your story have:

One main character?

A setting, using strong sensorial words?

A problem? Quest? Journey? Mystery? Can it be solved by the end of the story?

Attempts at solving or completing the plot line?

Suspense, with each attempt to succeed intensifying the tension?

Character-driven actions for the circumstances or world you have developed?

A plot that must be solved by the main character’s wits, strength, abilities?

A climax where the main character is at his lowest point?

A character’s attempts and failures at solving the problem that add up to the knowledge, talent, strength needed to actually solve the story problem?

Character growth for your main character? Change? Become stronger, better, wiser?

A satisfying ending? Have you wrapped up all the loose ends?


2.     Make sure your manuscript has been read by a critique group.

Rewriting is the most important part of writing.

If a critique suggestion rings true to your character, make the change.

If you have more than one person saying there is something missing or needing to be rewritten, chances are strong that you need to rework that portion.


3.     Make sure your manuscript has been edited.

 Check grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure.


4.     Make sure you know the proper format for submitting a manuscript.

Name, address, phone number on lefthand corner.

Title half way down the manuscript, with your name below.

Second page has a header with you name, title and page number.

The following pages all need the same header with the page number.

Begin your story at the top of page 2 under the header.

Word count in the upper right corner.


5.     Make sure you check the publisher’s guidelines prior to submission.

Every publishing house has its own distinct directions on how, and to whom a manuscript should be submitted. Follow those directions, or your manuscript may end up in the trash never having been read.

 Most successful writers spend more time and energy rewriting than they do writing. My father always said, “The harder I work the luckier I am.” The same is true with writing.