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1. ADDitude Magazine Post

ADDitude Magazine provides “strategies and support for ADHD and LD.” They reprinted my Huffington Post essay about my daughter’s struggle with Tourette Syndrome. The magazine is a wonderful resource, and I hope you’ll pass it along to anyone you know who could benefit from it. Thank you! Move Therapy: How Frozen Gave My Daughter Hope

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2. The Room In My Head - revisited - Linda Strachan

In January 2009 I wrote a blog on ABBA about the  Room in my Head.  It went something like this -

The Room In My Head

As the new year begins I look inside my head to find that room where inspiration might be hiding….   

In the middle of the room there is space, empty of life or furniture.   Walls, accustomed to colour and pattern, stand bereft waiting for design - perhaps imprints of flowers, pattern or activity.

Underfoot boards made of wood and nails move to mark my passage and where the light floods though glass no curtains block its passage. 

And yet the room is full of hope and joy because the sun is shining, casting summer against the emptiness.  
Sounds fill the space with anticipation - strains of mystery that fill my ears and delight my senses, holding me captive - wondering - what I will discover?

This year, many years and stories later, I find my year starting with the Room in My Head well populated by the book I am currently writing.  There is still space in the room although it is well furnished with characters and places, ideas, textures and much activity.

Underfoot  ideas are scattered on the boards like so many sparkling jewels - tempting and clamouring for attention. 

Terrified they might be discarded, their brilliance allowed to fade, dissipate and be condemned to become mere pebbles abandoned on the path to the finale.

Light flooding through the glass varies with each passing day, dependent on the story's progress, from dreary grey rain-clouds...

to breezy sunshine over water.

At the moment the Room in my Head is packed with a tapestry of thoughts, emotions, wrong turns and epiphanies.

It changes daily and fills to bursting with the noise of those who inhabit the story, each with their own goals and intentions, duplicitous or discernible,

but always fascinating.

What fills the Room in your Head?

Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and the writing handbook Writing For Children.
Linda's latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me  
she is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

Her best selling series Hamish McHaggis is illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby

website:  www.lindastrachan.com
blog:  Bookwords 

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3. Guest Post: The Unlikeliest Road From Fanfiction to Agenting

Industry Life


Jess Dallow

Note from Sooz: I’m DELIGHTED to introduce you all to the subrights and film/tv assistant at New Leaf Literary & Media. She has a great post today that I think will resonate with many of you just as it resonated with me. So many of us in writing and publishing got our starts working with fanfiction. But I’ll let Jess take it from here! :)

Up until a year ago, I thought I had a dirty little secret.

From the age of fourteen to thirty, I read, wrote, and beta read fanfiction. I didn’t know there was a name for it when I started (this was a world before fanfiction.net, message boards, and of course, Tumblr), but more than that, I never realized that these stories would end up changing the course of my life. I was a terrible student, but I was creative and happy, and the more I wrote, the more I honed skills I never quite knew I had. And when I ended up majoring in screenwriting, getting told by professors that my dialogue was too clunky and not realistic enough, I wrote more fanfiction. I watched more episodes (at that time it was hours upon hours of Law and Order: SVU), I listened harder, and I kept practicing. It wasn’t for a grade, there wasn’t so much pressure, and I taught myself to fix all of what was wrong. It was only months later when I started to get complimented on my dialogue and so I continued to switch back and forth between screenplays and fanfiction.

One was mandatory. The other taught me things school never did.

In the past sixteen years, I’ve spent time in three different fandoms religiously, and dabbled in a fourth. I hid it from the people in my everyday life, ashamed of a stigma that had been attached to fanfiction since it became whispered about like sin. Things like, “only people with no friends spend their time online, obsessed with a TV show”; “It’s just poorly written porn”; and any other number of insults that I’ve heard throughout the years. But in my secret online life, I started to get a reputation. I was a good writer, but more than that, I was an even better beta. I could look at someone’s work and see the bigger picture. I knew what was missing, what would make it better, but most of all, I discovered that as much as I liked writing, I loved writers more. I loved their enthusiasm and watching their work blossom and take shape and become something beautiful. The knowledge that I helped make someone else’s work stronger made me want to beta every story in every fandom, even if I had no time. I took on more than I could chew, started to write less, and fell in love with this life.

And then a year before I turned thirty, everything changed. A friend I knew through fanfic had written a novel and wanted me to beta it. I was flattered and excited, and I spent the entire weekend reading through it, making edits, and wishing deep down I could do this for a living. And instead of living a life that was no longer right for me, I left all my former dreams behind, including Los Angeles, where I had been living for the past eight years, and moved back to a city I swore I would never return to again. I took informational meetings at literary agencies and got an internship at the incredible New Leaf Literary and Media, Inc. It took less than three months until I was hired in a permanent position and where I’ve spent the last year.  Every day is an adventure and every day I am grateful.

Without fanfiction, without those years of writing and editing, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I wouldn’t have discovered incredible people along the way who believed in me and made me better; I wouldn’t have gotten dialogue down to a science; and most importantly I wouldn’t have discovered what I truly love. I’ve grown up with fanfiction writers who have later become published and I’ve met people who liked the idea of writing, but didn’t discover their life dreams of it until they wrote and posted for the world to see.

I realize now, it was never something to be ashamed of. So whether it’s writing or editing, or even just learning, embrace the fanfiction. It might just change your life.

Before moving back to her home state of New York, Jess Dallow spent eight years working at a talent agency in Hollywood. Deciding books and cold New York winters were more her speed, she became an intern at New Leaf Literary & Media before being hired as the subrights and film/tv assistant. In her spare time, Jess can be found at either Sprinkles or Chipotle, stuffing her face with cupcakes or guacamole (thankfully, not together). You can follow her on twitter.

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4. Badass Women Back Before the World Knew About Badass Women

In celebration of the release of BOOK OF EARTH, the first book in my medieval fantasy warrior girl series THE BRADAMANTE SAGA, I thought we’d all like a little extra dose of some badass women. Enjoy!

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5. For Better or for Wolf

My latest column is available at Luna Station Quarterly.

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6. What I learned from Darcy Pattison's Novel Revision Retreat

I've written over 25 books. Seventeen have been published, with two more coming out this year and three more in the works.

You'd think I'd have this whole novel-writing thing down. You would be wrong.

In January, I took Darcy Pattison's Novel Revision Retreat Workshop. It lasted three days and there was a lot of pre-work. Before it even started, you had to read two books on writing, and read three manuscripts from people you would be in a small group with during the conference. And of course you had to have your own book done so you could finish it with them.

Girl I Used to Be Deal
cropped Nora FBI hatsI took the manuscript for The Girl I Used to Be, which I sold last Memorial Day and I finished writing the day I needed to turn it in to my partners. The book is super important to me, not just for all the usual reasons, but because I put my mom, Nora Henry, in it. I gave the character the name Nora, and she looks, acts and talks like Nora. Her house, her beliefs, her favorite things - they are all in the book. I have no idea if this is a good idea or not, but my desire is that people will fall in love with the Nora in the book and realize a bit what a loss it is that she is no longer in this world.

I learned so much at the workshop. One was that there was a decided lack of conflict in the early chapters. In the book, the main character is mainly trying to figure out who killed her parents. It's not a thriller (which is what I usually write) where she is on the run, but rather a mystery where she tries to collect clues. So in the last two weeks, I worked to put conflict in those spots - or cut them.

I also realized I needed to call out emotions more.

And that I had an opportunity for a symbolic object - in this case, a necklace that Nora gives the main character - and I didn't use it at all.

I realized my final scene did not make it clear that the character had come full circle, even while she had changed internally. Now her epiphany is there on the page.

All this and I haven't even talked about Darcy's most famous idea for revision - the shrunken manuscript.

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 10.32.34 AMYou don't even need to go a retreat to use Darcy's methods. You could/should buy this book. And yes, I know I look a little crazed, but I mean it!

But if do get a chance to go, take it!

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7. THE SUMMER of FRUITION – Dianne Hofmeyr


This morning I killed someone. I got up early while the house was quiet and did it and then howled. It was tough. I hadn’t planned it. It came over me suddenly with huge conviction that it was the right thing to do. But it wasn’t easy.

I’ve known the person for two years or more and had never thought of killing her. But I did it. Now I’m bereft. But bad things happen. My story was too calm. Too stitched up at the end. How can one be working in one direction and then do such an about turn that you become a murderer overnight? And how can one feel so utterly sad about someone who is completely made up in your own head? Before writing them into the story, they didn’t exist, except in your deep consciousness. Is it the same deep consciousness that impels you to kill the person as well? I don’t know. All I know is that I hated doing it but the story is stronger.

I’m at my sea house… seems harsh to say this… when I know how cold it still is in the northern hemisphere right now… but I’m wondering if this house has an impact on my writing. In London I live so cramped and envy writers who have huge expanses of wild countryside to tramp while they solve their plots. Here I have nine kilometres of pristine sand and sea with a wild rocky outcrop at the end. As I write in the early mornings the salt air wafts in heavy with the smell of the sun on the wild indigenous coastal ‘fynbos.’

Do writers all have special places that unlock more – memory palaces not in the true mnemonic sense (I might be able to write that but can’t say it without stumbling) but places that make writing easier? Less about bricks and mortar and more about a space onto which we can project our dreams, hopes and fears? Like opening a drawer and suddenly the smell of it brings the memories and stories spilling out?

I’ve been writing this novel for more than two years now and I’m still polishing the stones of it that tumble around in my head and still finding the bleached bones buried in the sand. Perhaps now is the time to let it go? If Liz Kessler’s blog was The Spring of Ideas perhaps mine is The Summer of Fruition.

I’ve posted this video below on ABBA before when I originally made it as a response to place. But perhaps a bit of summer sunshine might not be misplaced. It was my first attempt at stitching visuals and music together so the loop in the music pauses in the middle but then picks up again.

Matt Haig tweeted recently: ‘Fiction is just a dream we have that we try to externalise.”

Twitter @dihofmeyr

ZERAFFA GIRAFFA by Dianne Hofmeyr, illustrated by Jane Ray, published by Frances Lincoln made the Top 100 Classics in the past 10 years List in THE SUNDAY TIMES and the Best Picture Book List for 2014 in The Times on Saturday.

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8. Multiple Perspectives

Writing Life Banner


Biljana Likic

biljana new picWriting from multiple perspectives is often a very rewarding way to convey the complexity of a plot. In stories that involve a lot of world-building, like high fantasy, it’s a good way of expanding the world you’re creating. You can better develop concepts like the reality of social status if your story that includes slaves isn’t entirely written from the viewpoint of a princess. You can also mess with readers. You can have a blacksmith plan to manipulate a swordsman, but when the actual manipulation is happening, it’s told from the swordsman’s oblivious perspective. There are few better ways to create those exciting situations where the reader knows what will happen but the character does not. There are even fewer better ways to orchestrate an event in such a manner that even the reader is unsure if what they’re reading is true, which of course keeps them reading.

Platitudes aside, there’s a massive, massive trap that everybody can fall into (and I most certainly have in the past) concerning multiple perspectives: too many viewpoints.

Consider this. You’ve come up with a world, you have your map, you mostly know what you want to happen, and you start writing. The general gist is a classic “Let’s overthrow the Villain,” where a whole cast of characters is developed through the archetypes of Hero’s support, Villain’s support, collateral damage, etc.

First we meet the Hero. This is where you describe the Eastern Flatlands the Hero’s living in. Then we meet the Thief, who’s out picking pockets in the Central Capital. Then comes the Villain, scheming in a remote castle on the Northern Coast, then the Mercenary trudging through the Western Alps, the Hunter in the Ancient Forest in the south, the Peasant in the Bread Bowl that’s consuming said forest…

Well that’s a wonderful lesson in geography, but I can almost guarantee you that people reading won’t give a damn about a single person from whose perspective the story has been told so far. That means there will be no investment, and when bad things start happening, they won’t care.

Why? Because the story’s being spread too thin.

When people invest in something, they expect returns. The first thing introduced is the Hero. The Hero will obviously be important. Afterwards, we have the Thief, Villain, Mercenary, Hunter, and Peasant. That’s five people established in their own separate geographical locations. If each person gets around 1500 words, then that’s at least seven thousand words about random people we don’t care about in places we can’t relate to, because the places are all new and the people are not the Hero. Before you know it, nearly 10k of your story has already gone by and you still haven’t even gotten around to the point where the Hero’s mentor dies. Not that we’ll care, because the last time we met the hero was thirty pages ago. By now, we’re already in love with the idea of a romantically attractive killer-for-hire in the mountains and wondering why he was replaced so quickly by boring hunters and peasants trying to feed their families.

So what happened here? It could just be that kind of story: you have six or seven big players around the edges of the world symbolically traveling towards the centre where they will find each other, interact, and blow our minds with how masterfully their stories end up weaving together. After all, in the grand scheme of things, 10k isn’t that many words, and if you develop the other voices well enough and make us invest in all of them, we probably won’t care as long as it’s good.

Ooooooor you spent so much time coming up with your world that your plot fell by the wayside. Moving on to a different character is less of a conscious decision and more of a way to procrastinate. Less, “This is excellent! I know exactly what will happen when I come back to the Hero!” and more “Mmmmmlet’s see…what does the Hero want now…I wonder what the Thief is doing…”

Because you know your world better than the people in it, you’re taking more time exploring it than your characters, and you end up writing about what it’s like to live in the Flatlands, on the Coast, or near the Alps, instead of focusing on your Kill the Villain plot. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with this, just that it results in you writing an exploration of a land instead of writing what you originally wanted: a gripping tale of adventure and intrigue.

The point isn’t to explore the world. …Well, it is. But the bigger point is to explore the plot, and then what you see of the world through that is the icing on the cake. Focus too much on your world and you risk making your plot stagnate.

Admittedly, what I’m saying heavily relies on all of those perspectives being disjointed travel diary entries by characters of various vocations. It’s difficult to explain this without actually showing you a piece of fiction, because the skeleton of the work still has potential. But in the event that the cause of all these perspectives is, in fact, the helpless floundering of a writer with a world too large for the plot, there are a few things you can do about it.

First, admit it. That’s always the toughest, because by this point, you probably like all the character’s you’ve come up with along the way.

Second, kill off those characters. Or at least tuck them away for now. Keep them alive in your notes, but cut them down for the moment.

Third, and most important. Choose one character that will be the theme of your story.

Say the Hero is your theme. Spend time establishing that character so that we have some understanding of their life and motivations. Give them dreams and goals, and then gradually, gradually, LIKE REALLY GRADUALLY, start introducing more and more characters. But only if their story can somehow relate back to the story of the theme character. For example, the Hero needs to find X, and the Mercenary needs to find X. However, the first hint we hear that the Hero needs to find X isn’t until 10k into the story, and then we don’t find out what that X is until 50k in. So when would you introduce the Mercenary? After 10k, when the Hero has discovered that X must be found.

The Mercenary, who was once just a random hot dude wandering the Alps, is suddenly the Hero’s direct competition for X. That’s what makes us care about him. Now, slotting him in from time to time to break up the voice of the Hero will not only be an effective way to develop the western part of your land, but also a way to tease the reader with what the hell X could be and how it relates to the Hero.

As your plot develops, do the same with the other perspectives. If the Hero’s reading a rare book 4k into the story, and the book is one the Thief, all the way in the Capital, desperately needs, there’s your in for introducing the Thief. Then 35k later when the Hero’s finally visiting the Capital with the book in hand, let the Thief be a Thief and have them make contact. This will also give you the fascinating opportunity to recreate the city from the eyes of the country bumpkin Hero after dozens of scenes of the city through the eyes of the savvy Thief.

The idea is that even though these characters are so far away from each other, even though they have no clue who the other is, they’re all connected to the theme character through their desires and ambitions. They all relate back to something about the Hero whose influence, like a catchy hook of a good piece of music, can be found even in the parts of the story focused on other characters.

Another thing this will do (just by virtue of it being done) is drastically improve the flow of your story.

Alternatively, if you don’t approve of the idea of a theme character, you scrap everything I’ve said above and do this instead: make it so that the multiple perspectives are from characters who know each other. This usually depends on them being in the same geographical location, but if you don’t want a theme character and you have the luxury of the characters being in the same place, here is a different way to write your multiple perspectives.

Pick up all your characters: Hero, Thief, Villain, Mercenary, Hunter, Peasant. Drop them all into one place. Create relationships between them: the Hero and the Thief are friends, the Thief buys meat from the Hunter, the Hunter also sells meat to the Mercenary, who works for the Villain, who owns the land the Peasant tills. This way, they all indirectly know each other. Which means that the first scene with the Hero can maybe include the Thief. The next scene with the Thief can include the Hunter, etc. If the Hero’s perspective includes a character who later contributes their own perspective, at best it’ll be freaking awesome to know what that character was thinking while you were in the mind of the Hero, and at worst it’ll be an interesting addition that adds depth to the complexity of your story. Also, in this way, you don’t have to worry about how people will remember who’s who since they’re ever-present within the perspectives of the others, not only within their own.

But, like I said, it depends on their geographical location. It also depends on if they know each other at all. It depends on the kind of story you want to write, and if you’re at all willing to bend to the idea of a theme character.

Moreover, it depends, as always, solely and entirely on your plot.

Biljana Likic is working on her fantasy WIPs and has nearly completed her MA in Medieval Studies, from which she can’t wait to graduate so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can follow her on Twitter.

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9. Guest Post: Getting Into Publishing (You Gotta Do It For The Love)

Industry Life


Danielle Barthel

Hey guys! I’m so excited to share this guest post with your from Danielle Barthel, a literary assistant from New Leaf Literary. She offers her own personal experience and insight for breaking into the publishing industry–which I’m sure many of you know isn’t the easiest thing to do.

Hello Pub-crawlers!

I’m so happy to be doing a guest post here this week!

I recently read a comment on Alex Bracken’s “You Tell Us: What Do You Want To See” post asking us to talk about hard lessons we’ve learned. For me—and I don’t think I’m alone—one of these lessons was the importance of following my passions. This was most relevant to me when I was trying to find a job in publishing.

RobinHoodDisneyThe truth is, this is not an easy industry to crack, and there were times that I felt like it was never going to happen. What kept me going was the simple fact that I’ve wanted to work with words forever. I remember the first time I finished a full length book all by myself—one of those big hardcover Disney books that were based off the movies. Remember those? I was so proud of myself.

flashlightBooks were just my thing. Growing up, I was the kid who got in trouble for reading at night by the light of my yellow American Girl flashlight-lantern (it looks a little like the one here, but I couldn’t find the exact picture).

When I reached the age that I no longer got into trouble for staying up late reading, and I still wanted to do it even though it was no longer “forbidden fruit” (and this was about as rebellious as my conscience let me get), I knew that my obsession with books wasn’t going away.

BrockportI actively realized that this was more than a passing rebellious phase, but instead a passion for something greater, when I left for college. I went to undergrad at The College at Brockport, State University of New York. It was five hours from home and the biggest leap I had ever taken outside my comfort zone. My fears about homesickness, not making friends, and being unhappy battled with my desire to learn about all things book related. Now loving books was more than just a passion—it was moving me towards a career.

I majored in English and took entire classes dedicated to Shakespeare, American lit, British lit, and young adult lit—I couldn’t believe it was a requirement to read Harry Potter in a real college class!

yorkAnd it turned out that Brockport had one of the best study abroad programs around. I could wax nostalgic about my love of England, and specifically the town of York, for hours, but I’ll spare you. Instead I’ll just say I hope everyone has the opportunity to do something that scares them (like finding your own way in a foreign country without Google Maps) at least once in your life. Because it’ll bring even clearer into focus both who you are, and what you want out of life. Or at least it did for me.

Coming home, I knew with certainty—books, words, and the people who worked on them were inspiring and I wanted to be a part of it. So I went to the University of Denver’s Publishing Institute, where I spent an entire month learning more about publishing. It was eye-opening and informative, and when I returned to New York, I set up a ton of informational interviews with wonderful, willing agents and editors to learn even more, before someone I will be forever grateful to suggested that I look into internships.

Even though it might sound like things happened quickly, they didn’t. I spent a few months doing interviews, both informational and for actual jobs/internships. I had this intense Excel grid of people I had emailed for interviews, what they were for, when I met with them, if they responded…

When I got my first real job rejection (for something I had been feeling so good about), I was pretty devastated. Wasn’t I doing everything right? English degree, Denver Publishing Institute grad, interviewing up a storm. Why was I still jobless?

Something I didn’t understand until after I’d been applying for jobs left and right is not to discount things completely out of my control, like being in the right place at the right time. I applied for an internship at Writers House, one of the biggest agencies in New York, after a recommendation from an informational interview. The Writers House intern coordinator initially called me because I was a Denver grad. I got the internship because of a mix of networking and timing and because I fit what they were looking for. All those factors together jump-started my career.

I’ve now worked in the industry I love, at a company I love, for three years as of this January. And after everything that’s led me to this place, it always goes back to my love of books.

So my lesson is this: follow your passions. Do what you love just because you love it. Don’t let those terrifying “what ifs” control your life. Thrive on challenge. And be open to the fact that you don’t have all the answers. That’s okay too.

Following her completion of the Denver Publishing Institute after graduation, Danielle began interning at Writers House. While there, she realized she wanted to put her English degree and love of the written word to work at a literary agency. She became a full-time assistant and continues to help keep the New Leaf offices running smoothly.

In her downtime, she can be found with a cup of tea, a bar of chocolate, or really good book…sometimes all together. Follow Danielle on Twitter!

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10. This Is What Is Possible (Part 4)

This girl is definitely living the spirit of Why Not Me? Love her story.


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11. 2015: the year of risk

I used to make elaborate New Year's Resolutions with 20, 30, even 40 things I was going to change, do, fix.  I would be thinner and a better friend, run faster and pray more.

Often, the only thing that changed on that list was the year at the top.

This year, my resolution was a single word: risk. I'm increasingly aware of my own mortality. Time is flying by and I don't want to say "If only I had."

I got a chance to act on my resolution only a few days into the new year. A man I don't know well but respect often uses a series of funny accents as he makes his points:  New York.  Russian.  Etc.

And one is a big campy gay voice.

That day, I looked around the room, trying to see if it made anyone else as uncomfortable as me. But I felt like I was alone. Still, I waited until everyone else had gone and told him how I felt.

The conversation took some interesting turns I hadn't expected. I think it was eye-opening for both of us.

And afterward I was glad I had taken that risk.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 4.19.04 PMIn a few months I'm going to be taking a class called Urban Escape and Evasion (I snagged the photo from their web site). You spend two days learning how to survive in a dangerous chanotic urban environment (say after a terrorist attack or being kidnapped in a foreign country), then on the third day you are  “kidnapped: hooded, cuffed and taken somewhere dark and uncomfortable to start your day. You will be expected to escape, find your own transportation legally using your social engineering skills, and make your way to the first cache location, where directions for a series of tasks using all your new skills await.Meanwhile, expert trackers will be hunting you down, and if they catch you, you will have to start again from a more distant location."

I know this is going to stressful. As a writer, I'll be an outlier, surrounded by preppers and ex-military.  My guess is I'll be older and one of very few women.

But for the risk, I'll have the reward of having so much amazing writing material. So it will be worth it.

Are you taking any risks this year?

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12. Productivity Tip: Learn how to say no

Those of you who have no trouble saying no can just skip the rest of this post.

Some of you, however, may be like me. I like making people happy and don't like disappointing them. I also dislike conflict. So when people ask me for things, I used to usually say yes....even when I knew I'd probably regret it later.

I'm gradually learning how to say no.

While it's true that saying yes to one "just have a quick favor to ask, would appreciate just a few minutes of your time" is no problem, saying yes to a LOT of these favors accumulates. And in my experience, "just a few minutes" inevitably turns into hours or sometimes days.

What's hardest: saying no to projects that DO sound like a lot of fun and that I want to do. One of my challenges (and I suspect some of you feel similarly): I want to do EVERYTHING.

By saying no more often, however, I'm able to focus and enjoy the projects I say "yes" to more fully AND have more flexibility about when I do take on a new project.


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13. Productivity Tip: Create a safe mental space in which you feel safe to create.

Whether I'm working on my own writing (including the 250, 500 and 1000 Words/Day Challenge) or an illustration project, I find I'm able to better focus and be more productive if I can create a mental space in which I feel safe enough to do my best work.

Perhaps safe isn't the right word. I like Shaun Tan's "bubble of delusion" idea, which I first heard in his talk at an SCBWI Winter Conference a couple of years ago.

Sean's advice: Set up a safe space in which you feel positive about yourself and your work, and in which you know that you WILL do great work. Surround yourself with positive, encouraging people. Try to avoid negativity as much as possible. Sean says he steers clear of reading reviews of his work, for example.

Part of the way I do this is trying very hard to STAY OFFLINE when I'm doing creative work. Even dropping in on Twitter or FB for a few minutes can end up being an energy-sucking black hole, often making me question whether I'm doing enough (especially in terms of promotion, networking, working on my craft, etc.) or doing it -whatever "it" is- the Right Way.

What do YOU do to create your own Bubble Of Happy Delusion?


0 Comments on Productivity Tip: Create a safe mental space in which you feel safe to create. as of 1/14/2015 11:54:00 AM
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14. Go, Write!

In the beginning, the page is blank--just blue lines and white spaces. It’s like looking into a mirror. The page serves as the release mechanism, the trigger, the catalyst for thought. But thought itself doesn’t take place on the page. You may look at the lines and the spaces between the lines, but what you see is the image in your head, the image that is not yet on the page. A

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15. Being a writer is a great job for a naturally nosy person

My vanity license plate reads


In California, where you can have up to 8 characters, it would read:


So do you know what it means?

I'm nosy!

Although I like to think of it as "genuinely interested in people."

I'm starting on a sequel to Girl, Stolen. When I wrote that book, which is about a blind girl who is accidentally kidnapped when someone steals her step-mom's car, I was working full time and had a kid in middle school. I had zero free time. So I read books about what it's like to be blind and did research on the Internet.

Now I have the freedom to talk to people. Today I'm interviewing someone who is blind and here are some of the questions I want to ask:

  • Do you know Braille? How important is it? How many blind people really know Braille?

  • What apps do you use/what do you they do? Can you show me?

  • How has your life changed in the last five years in terms of technology?

  • Do you cook? How do you see how fine the pieces are when chopping or know if things are done?

  • Open the freezer - how do you know what’s in it?

  • How do you sweep or keep floor clean and know it is?

  • How would you walk in straight line across crosswalk without the cues of the sidewalk?

  • How would you find the bathroom in a strange building?

  • How would you find your locker at school and spin it?

  • Do you do any sports?

  • What smells do you notice the most?

  • Are there sayings people say all the time, like Love Is Blind or getting embarrassed about “see”?

  • What’s one thing people always get wrong about what it's like to be blind?

  • What’s one thing people don’t realize?

  • What would scare you the most?

Anything you think I should add?

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16. Picture Book Publisher – Flashlight Press

FlashLight Press is celebrating their 10 year in the publishing business. They are a small publisher and only publish a few books each year, but they specialize in picture books. Check out their awards pages. I was impressed with what they have accomplished. You may even recognize some of the artwork on their covers, since many of their illustrators have been featured on Illustrator Saturday. Click on the illustration that shows off some of the character in their books to look over their book catalog.



If you have a story you want FLASHLIGHT PRESS to consider:

First, make sure your manuscript fits the following criteria:

  • is a fiction picture book (NOT a concept book, non-
    fiction, an early reader, a chapter book, or a YA novel)
  • has a universal theme (but no holiday themes, and no
    talking inanimate objects)
  • deals with family or social situations
  • targets 4-8 year olds
  • is between 500-1,000 words
  • feels like a Flashlight book (Please read about our
    books to determine whether your story really feels like a

If your manuscript meets their criteria:

  • send a query email describing your story (plot, word
    count, target audience, what makes this story unique) and
    a bit about yourself, to Shari Dash Greenspan at
  • do not send snail mail queries. We disregard and
    recycle all snail mail submissions.
  • do not send attachments (instead, type your query
    into the body of the email.)
  • do not send your full manuscript (neither attached nor
    pasted into the email).


  • you will receive an automated reply within a week or so
    that we received your email query.
  • if we wish to see your full manuscript, we’ll let you know
    by email within a month or so. If you do not receive an
    email requesting your full manuscript, please realize that
    your story was not considered a fit for our line.

Manuscripts, when requested, will be evaluated within three to
four months.

Important tip: unless you are also an artist, do not include
illustrations with a requested manuscript.

If you create artwork that you want them to consider:

  • Explore our site to be sure that your style could be a fit.
  • Please do not send any samples by snail mail – we are going
    paperless and will recycle all paper samples we receive.
  • Do not send attachments. Instead, please paste a few sample
    jpegs into an email. Then we don’t have to open any files and
    can easily view your artwork.
  • Do include links to your online portfolio in your email.
  • Send the email to artsubmissions@FlashlightPress.com.
  • We‘ll keep your information on file for future reference, and will
    be in touch if we have any projects to offer.

Make this the year you revise and submit. Gook Luck!

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: authors and illustrators, inspiration, need to know, opportunity, picture books, Places to Submit, publishers Tagged: Flashlight Press, Picture book publisher, submission guidelines

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17. It’s 2015 — Believe Anything Can Happen in Your Writing Life

(The column excerpted from WRITE AWAY: A YEAR OF


It’s the New Year, and the blogosphere is teeming with resolutions. Last year, so much—well, let’s call it “debris”—hit the fan that we’re all ready for a clean, fresh start. And I think this national January pastime of resolution-making is particularly compelling for writers. Starting a new project, completing an old one, editing, querying, classes, conferences—we have no shortage of goal-worthy pursuits.

I usually make resolutions. This year, however, I’m trying something different, inspired by Tim Burton’s reimagining of Alice in Wonderland. Early in the movie, when Alice remarks to her stick-in-the-mud potential fiancé that she wonders what it would be like to fly, he asks her why she would spend time thinking of such an impossible thing. She can’t imagine why she wouldn’t and tells him that her late father sometimes believed in six impossible things even before breakfast.

Near the end of the movie, as Alice battles the ferocious Jabberwocky, she gathers her courage by reminding herself to believe in six impossible things. “One: there’s a potion that can make you shrink. Two: and a cake that can make you grow. Three: animals can talk. Four: cats can disappear. Five: there’s a place called Wonderland. Six: I can slay the Jabberwocky.”

She does slay the beast. Then she returns to tell the dull Seamus that she won’t marry him. Instead, she embarks on an exciting new business adventure with her father’s friend. Inspired by Alice’s moxie, I’ve decided that instead of making resolutions this year, I will believe in six impossible things every day before breakfast. For example:

1. Chocolate can make me thin
2. I can win a million dollars just by using my Discover Card
3. My kitchen can stay clean for longer than five minutes
4. I can master time management
5. With the right shampoo, my hair can look like Jennifer Aniston’s
6. I can vanquish the dreaded slush pile like my own personal Jabberwocky.

My rational mind knows that the odds of these things happening might not be in my favor—and probably a kajillion-to-one for #2—but there’s something very liberating about giving myself permission to be open to the idea that anything can happen. As Alice’s father says, “The only way to achieve the impossible is to believe it is possible.” What impossible things will you believe in this year?

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Kerrie Flanagan is the Director of Northern Colorado Writers, an accomplished freelance writer, author and publisher. Her articles have appeared in the 2015 Children’s Writers and Illustrator’s Market, as well as the past four Writer’s Markets,Writer’s Digest and The Writer. She is the author of three books and the founder of Hot Chocolate Press. Jenny Sundstedt is a member of Northern Colorado Writers (NCW) and serves on the creative team for the annual NCW Writer’s Conference. She writes long and short fiction, essays, overly ambitious to-do lists, and since 2010, has been a regular contributor to the NCW blog, The Writing Bug. Their book, WRITE AWAY, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kindle, Nook and Kobo. The book combines monthly insightful and humorous stories with tips, tools and interactions that encourage writers to reflect on where they are and where they want to be. Here are two essays from the book for you to enjoy.


Those who become successful writers are not always the most talented ones, but they are always the ones who did not give up. They pushed through the tough times, they passed those who dropped out, and they made the decision to cross the finish line.

Someone told me that what you want becomes irrelevant without a decision. This is so true when it comes to writing. I come across people all the time who say they want to be writers. They talk about all the things they want to write, or all the novels they want to finish. But they never do anything about it.

There are so many things I want. I want to spend a year in Alaska, I want to see the Northern Lights, I want to attend the Book Expo of America, I want to publish a short story… Are all of these things possible for me? Of course they are. I just need to make a decision to stop wanting and to start doing.

Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen created the Chicken Soup for the Soul empire. This would not have happened if they hadn’t decided to publish the first Chicken Soup for the Soul book. They also decided that NOT publishing it was NOT an option. So, they persevered. They didn’t quit after 20, 50, 100 publishers said no. When someone said “no,” Jack and Mark would say, “next.” After 123 rejections, Heath Communications gave them the yes they had been waiting for. They have now sold over 100 million Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

Is this the year you will move beyond wanting to write and make the decision to actually be a writer? Are you willing to do what it takes to finish that novel, write that article, start that blog, or find an agent? Are you ready to invest time in your writing, have confidence in your abilities, and push through to the finish line? If so, this is going to be a great year for you.


Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:


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Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying,
craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
much more. Filled with all the advice you’ll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

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18. 12 Tips to Help Prevent Reader Boredom


I thought the above illustration was a good fit with today’s post. Since I feel that this post will help you stir up you manuscript to keep your readers reading, just like illustrator Alik Arzoumanian did letting her cute lady stir up the sky.  (Note: I am looking for artwork to show off)

Alik received her BFA in Illustration from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston in 2004.   The first children’s book “Tunjur! Tunjur! Tunjur! A Palestinian Folktale” by Margaret Read MacDonald received an ALA Notable Book Award in 2007. She was also featured on Illustrator Saturday.

Hope these tips help you stir up your manuscript:

1. Keep solving problems and adding new ones. Mix up the problems by using physical, logistical, and ones with other people.

2. Make your MC be in a worse place than before the last problem.

3. Beware of the “one Darn Thing After Another” Syndrome. You don’t want your MC to always be stuck dealing with things that don’t change their circumstances.

4. Deliberately shorten your sentences in tense scenes.

5. If you keep your chapters short, you will lore the reader into reading a little more before taking a break.

6. Stun your protagonist with a negative surprise that comes out of the blue. Shock your hero and you will shock your reader into reading more by ramping up the tension.

7. Delay revealing important information to ratchet up the tension. Let your readers worry about unanswered questions.

8. Contract you protagonists universe by making sure their are consequences for each choice. Lost opportunities add tension. When he chooses one option, he will no longer be able to purse the other good things he might have bee able to do.

9. Make an ally into an oppositional character with a conflicting goal.

10. Use dialogue to imply thing that are not directly said. Add in ironic statements to keep the reader wondering.

11. Make sure all the actions are built upon, leading to something. Look for places in your story that are dead ends.

12. Each scene must have a purpose – pointless events – excessive explanations – backstory. You might want to note the purpose after the first draft to remind you why you included it. This will make it easier to see if you need to eliminate it in later revision.

Do you have any other things you do to avoid reader boredom?

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, article, demystify, How to, inspiration, list, Process, revisions, Tips Tagged: 12 Tips to Help Prevent Reader Boredom, Alik Arzoumanian

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19. Focus on Positive

When life throws you down a crooked track, hold close your family, latch onto new friends, throw up your hands and find something to smile about.


While 2014 was definitely a crooked track for us, I want to close it with a look to the good. Shortly after our diagnosis, I had a friend reach out to me amidst his own health crisis. My advice to him was, “Hear the negative, focus on the positive and know that God has both covered.”

Good advice? I think so – but much easier said than done. This world screams negative. We are bombarded with the bad. The nightly news covers everything wrong with our world first and longest before they throw in one human interest story just before saying good night. (If you missed Kylie on the news, you can watch it HERE)

While sifting through the ruins of this broken world, how do we see what is good? I have seen a lot of things in my 47 years. To borrow the movie title, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. I have driven a man out of the slum of Port ‘au Prince, Haiti and watched as he was given the keys to his new home. I have been fortunate enough to help put a roof on a hut in Swaziland for a family decimated by HIV. Beauty plucked from ugly, good snatched from bad. Both started with a choice to engage.

Despite my experiences, never in my life have I seen the good side of humanity than from the day Kylie was diagnosed with cancer. The flood of well-wishes, prayers, and support for our family has been as overwhelming as the diagnosis itself. When you hear the words, “Your child has cancer,” the temptation is to curl up in the fetal position, shut out the world and cry. When I was at my weakest, I found an abundance of arms to hold me.

Friends, family, our school and church rallied to our side.

The nurses, doctors, childlife specialists, and staff of the Aflac Cancer Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta became dear partners in this journey. We also found great care at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte.

Organizations came alongside to help navigate and let us know we aren’t alone: 1 Million for Anna, Make-A-Wish, Cure Childhood Cancer, The Truth 365, Rally Foundation, Melodic Caring Project, The Jesse Rees Foundation, Along Comes Hope, 3/32 Foundation, Blessed Beauty, Open Hands Overflowing Hearts, Kingdom Kids, Lily’s Run.

We have seen built a network of people who pray faithfully for Kylie. To be totally honest, I admit there are times when I cannot lift a word to heaven. Maybe a grunt, maybe an angry shake of the fist. Without a doubt, I know there are many people praying for my little girl when I can’t. That is incredibly humbling.

Then there is encouragement and love. Kylie gets cards and letters daily. At least a dozen young ladies have donated their hair in Kylie’s honor. People all across the country and literally around the world have been #SmileyForKylie. As of today, 87 countries have done it. Grown men have written it on their bald heads.

Between Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, we have received over 10,000 smiling selfies for Kylie. Unreal. We have gotten them from celebrities, athletes, and Kylie’s beloved Broadway performers. Idina Menzel made a video. Kristin Chenoweth made two pics and talked about her on a radio show. Laura Osnes posted a word of encouragement to her. She got a box of Broadway treats from Hunter Foster. She had pics from 9 out of 12 musicals nominated for Tony Awards, and the cast of her favorite show, Aladdin have reached out to her over and over again. Sometimes we can trace the web that led to the picture, but most of the time we have no idea how they happen – we have no line to these people. It’s just good. And it is out there – making a choice to engage with our little girl in a time when she so desperately needs it. A thank you will never be enough, but all I can offer.

Regardless of your view of the Bible, Philippians 4:8 gives us sage advice:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

I’ll not be able to change everyone’s mind. You can remain a cynic if you choose to. But the things I have experienced in 2014 prove to me that there is good in this world. I choose to think about such things – it is what has kept me going.

In 2015, we look forward to hearing the words: No Evidence of Disease and watching Kylie resume a normal life. That will be something worth throwing up our hands and smiling about.


Happy New Year from Portsong, your humble mayor & Kylie

Filed under: Learned Along the Way

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20. Free Fall Friday – Why Does Your Story Happen?

I will announce the guest critique for January next Friday, but you can start sending in your first pages now. See bottom of post for submission guidelines.

erikaphoto-45Erika Wassall, the Jersey Farm Scribe here with an important question for you today:

Why Does Your Story Happen?

No matter what I’m writing, from a picture book, to a young adult novel, or even a flash fiction piece, I have learned that all stories will present themselves better, be stronger and more meaningful if the reader has an idea of WHY they are happening.

This has taken me some time to learn. I like to start out knee-deep IN the action. One problem I’ve never had was a slow beginning. I like books that throw me right in there, even if I’m fumbling to understand what’s going on at first, so that’s how I almost always write.

High energy. Instant engagement.

Great, right?

Sure, sure, it has positives. But I had to learn to take a step back. And it has to be fast. Within a few paragraphs, or a page, the reader has to be let into the details of the world, what’s going on, and WHY.

At first, instant action is exciting. The reader gets the immediate thrill (hopefully) of really feeling the movement of the story. But that will quickly wear off, and leave them with a sour taste of “okay… what the heck is actually going on here??”

The reader needs to be in on the secrets.

Not every secret right away of course. But they quickly need to feel a sense of inclusiveness and grasp of the reality they dove into.

And it has to be more than an explanation of what monster they’re running from, or that Haylie is worried about them being lost because she’s out WAY past her curfew already.

I need to introduce a catalyst. WHY did they come to this place where the monster’s roam? If Haylie is so worried about her curfew, why did she choose TONIGHT to break the rules?

It’s something I struggle with. Feeling out how much information I need to put out there.

A trick that helps me is to look at it like a playground. Clichés of kids huddle together, whispering about whatever mischief or drama is the flavor of the moment. The reader needs to feel like one of the gang, like they understand the inside jokes and are “in” on everything going on.

This can be especially difficult in picture books. Every word is precious in a PB, and it can seem like a waste to be using them up to explain how the main character got to that point or why. But it can take less than you’d think, and really adds a depth of buy-in from the reader.

Understanding WHY a story is happening can ground it more in its own reality, giving it a sense of linear tangibility, as well as natural character development. Cause and effect are a part of every world and handled differently by every individual.

Billy darts into the kitchen, begging mom for a few toy.

Why then? Perhaps Billy just came from his friend’s house and learned they were getting one and is now jealous. This could need little more than the comment that Tommy’s mom said HE was getting one.

Or maybe Billy just saw the TV advertisement. A plate of crackers in front of the TV with a spilled glass of juice and the TV still blaring in the background could paint the picture without even using a single word.

No matter how it’s done, it can make the reader feel more like an insider on the story itself, and at the same time, gives insight on what type of person Billy is, what motivates him, what set off his longing.

So take a moment, step back and make sure that you’re letting your readers in on the secrets, giving them the insight into this new world that makes them know they’ve unlocked something special. Because there’s no doubt in my mind…

… your manuscripts are worth it.


Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at www.TheJerseyFarmScribe.com where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!

Thank you Erika for kicking off the new year with this new article.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES for January’s First Page Critiques:

In the subject line, please write “January 2015 First Page Critique” and paste the text in the email. Please make sure you include your name, the title of the piece, and whether it is as picture book, middle grade, or young adult, etc. at the top.

Plus attach your first page Word doc. to email. Format using one inch margins and 12 point New Times Roman font – double space – no more than 23 lines – only one page. Send to: kathy(dot)temean(at)gmail(dot)com.

PLEASE FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES: Last month a number of submissions were taken out of the mix, due to not following the directions for both the pasted email and the attached Word doc.

DEADLINE: January 22nd.

RESULTS: January 30th.

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, article, inspiration, writing Tagged: Erika Wassall, Why Does Your Story Happen?

5 Comments on Free Fall Friday – Why Does Your Story Happen?, last added: 1/5/2015
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21. Illustrator Saturday – Diana Kizlauskas

Diana Kizlauskas_photoDiana Kizlauskas says she knew she was in trouble early on. Drawing Barbie was more fun than playing with her. Drawing a poster of the Beatles was more appealing than buying one. A high school mural project meant more than ACT scores. By senior year, I made peace with my art addiction and chose it as my professional path…

With help from above and a little caffeine, I earned B.A. degrees in Art Education (UIC, 1974) and Illustration (Ray College of Design/ Illinois Institute of Art, 1991), supplementing those with drawing workshops at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. My portfolio landed me in the freelance world of advertising and editorial illustration. Then with a new millennium, came a new direction: greeting cards and children’s educational publishing. Throughout this time, I exhibited work in the Chicago area, including at Gallery 400/UIC, Hyde Park Art Center, North Lakeside Cultural Center, and had a solo show at the Beverly Arts Center. In Indiana, my work was displayed at the Anderson Fine Arts Center, the John G. Blank Center for the Arts and Purdue University.

My work, family and faith community make up my rather simple universe. A native Chicagoan, my heart is anchored to the Midwest. However, I often go beyond the familiar to work with ethnic and historical themes. Through books, various other media and travel, I enjoy learning about different eras and cultures. I’ve amassed a wealth of visual reference materials which help me render physical characteristics, geographic features and design elements of various places and times. My background in education helps me translate those images to young readers in ways they can best understand.


The illustrations presented here are created digitally or are hybrids of traditional acrylic on canvas or colored pencil on board combined with digital media.

Here is Diana talking about her process:


When I start an illustration I first break down the image to its most essential components. In the case of “The Climb” from my The Twelve Ravens book project, these are: the mountain, the stormy sky, girl protagonist and the injured eagle.





I then scan the images into Photoshop, placing each on a separate layer so that I can manipulate them independently. I play with size, cropping, etc., until I’m satisfied with the arrangement.

6_tonal rough

Since an odd number of objects make for a more interesting composition, I’ll eventually add in a fifth element, the “swoosh” of a blizzard.


Next, I add tones to the drawing. I do this digitally or by printing out the line art and adding shading by hand and rescanning. The prior picture is an example where I have done both to achieve the result.
I start “painting” by duplicating my black and white tonal image and adjusting its color to umber (Figure 7). This layer lies atop the original tonal art.


I again replicate the image to create a blue layer, which lies atop the umber. Then, using various percentages of opacity in my eraser tool, I remove sections of blue to expose umber and umber to expose black and greys. This results in a balanced warm-cool color underlayment.


I go to finish by brushing on an entire spectrum of colors, working out details, depth, drama, texture. I give myself creative license to cut, crop, chop and drop, until—voila, it’s done!


Even as I’m working on the final art, I like to keep each key component of the piece in a separate layer so that I can continue to scale it, move it or manipulate its brightness and color. This is particularly helpful when the format of the illustration needs to be changed from print edition to eBook or if you need to “repurpose” images for a promotional spot. For example, I adapted the scene from “The Climb” to use as my Facebook masthead last winter.


How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been drawing since I could clutch a crayon in my chubby little hands; I’ve been paid for it since 1991.


How did you end up going to University of California, Irvine?

I received a BA degree in Art Education from the College of Art and Architecture, University of Illinois at Chicago, known around these parts as UIC. (I have never studied in California; perhaps your question is based on a typo in one of my bio pages.)


Since you received a BA in Art Education, did you teach after you graduated?

After completing my student teaching, I opted to stay home with my two children until they started grammar school. However, I do have about a decade of experience teaching part-time extracurricular classes to 3-7 year olds, including crafts, science and religious education.

What types of classes did you take that really helped you to develop as an illustrator?

Because a successful illustration is the result of craft, composition and creative communication, I think that Life drawing, Basic Design and Illustration Concepts courses were all indispensable.

When did you get involved in Freelance Art?

I began getting professional free-lance projects immediately upon graduating from Ray College of Design. Their job placement services were quite helpful in getting me those initial interviews and portfolio showings.

What was the first thing you created where someone paid you for your work?

As a kid, I sold poster-size portraits of the Beatles to classmates. My first job as a “bone fide” illustrator was an editorial piece for the Chicago Daily Southtown newspaper.

What made you decide to study illustration at Ray College of Design/ Illinois Institute of Art in 1991?

Ray College was a small vocational school providing a lot of individual attention to its students and geared toward getting them into the working world. At this point in my life, I felt I had had enough theoretical background and needed to jump into action.

How long did you take drawing workshops at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago?

I attended Advanced Drawing Workshop for about a year.

Do you think taking those workshops helped improve your drawing skills?

They certainly did. But more importantly, they impressed upon me the importance of surrender to the mystery of creative process, experimentation with images, as well as pushing techniques and materials to their limits. Oddly enough, I also came away from my experience at SAIC with a personal resolve to avoid conformity to non-conformity.

When did you go digital?
I was dragged into the Digital Age in the late 2000’s by clients and agents who wanted a project done quicker, cleaner, and cheaper. I went kicking and screaming, but it was one of the best things that ever happened to me professionally.

How many children’s books have you illustrated?

If we count leveled readers, I have illustrated 14 books in traditional print and 4 eBooks.

Do you still do freelance art?

All my work is done on a free-lance basis.

What was the first picture book that you illustrated? When did that happen?

I illustrated The Legend of the Bluebonnet in 2004.

How did that contract come about?

I was approached by Steven Edsey Sons artists’ reps to do the project. They had seen a piece in my samples portfolio which matched the needs of the client very closely—a Plains’ Indian family preparing a meal. The rest was, as they say, history.

Was the Legend of the Bluebonnet the first book you did with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt?

The publisher of the Legend of the Bluebonnet was Rigby/ Harcourt Achieve. I’m unclear as to what its relation to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt was at that time.

How many books have you done with Harcourt?

I have illustrated four leveled readers for Rigby/ Harcourt Achieve and one for Harcourt School Publishers.

Would you consider working with an author who wants to self publish?

I would base my decision on the strength of the author’s credentials and the quality of the material.

Can you tell us a little bit about EDCO/Ireland? How did they find you and what type of work did they have you do?

EDCO is an educational publisher in Ireland. I believe their art directors saw my work on childrensillustrators.com and then contacted my current artist reps. I illustrated several stories (“In the Deep Dark Wood,” and “The Island of the Blue Dolphins”) and a poem (“The North Wind”) for them. One of these illustrations was then adapted as a cover for By The North Star, a book in their Big Box Library series.

Have you worked with educational publishers? Which one’s?

Besides the aforementioned Rigby/Harcourt Achieve, Harcourt School Publishers and EDCO/Ireland, I have worked with Macmillan/McGrawHill, Pearson/Scott Foresman, Pearson Education, Compass Publishing and Quarasan, Inc. Though they might also be considered a trade or religious publisher, Pauline Books and Media contracted me to illustrate Jorge of Argentina: The Story of Pope Francis for Children (2014).

How did those books come your way?

Nearly all of them came through artists’ reps with whom I was associated at the time of the project’s inception.

Have you ever tried to write and illustrate a children’s book?

Yes, I have. LETTUCE! , my tall tale about a rabbit and his rampant good fortune, is on the eBook market right now. Parents and teachers of preschoolers have given it a 5-star rating and I’m very excited about making it available in a traditional print version this spring.

Do you have an agent? If so, who and how long have the represented you? If not, would you like one?

Over the years I have been represented by several agencies, but since 2010 by WendyLynn&Co.

What types of things do you do to get your work seen by publishing professionals?

I supply my artist reps with promotional material and advertise on childrensillustrators.com (http://www.childrensillustrators.com/illustrator-details/DKizlauskas/id=2110/). I maintain gallery and bookstore spaces on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators website (http://www.scbwi.org/members-public/diana-kizlauskas) and I maintain an author/illustrator page on amazon.com. Also, I post regularly to my business Facebook page (www.facebook.com/DKIllustration). Most importantly, I keep my DKI Children’s Illustration website (www.dianakizlauskas.com ) updated and functioning.

Have you seen your style change since you first started illustrating?

Absolutely. My work is increasingly softer edged, more painterly, and close to 100% digital.

Have you gotten any work through networking or the Internet?

Almost exclusively so. As I described above, nearly all my marketing revolves around websites and on-line portfolio displays.

Do you use software for painting besides Photoshop?

So far, only Photoshop.

Do you own a graphic tablet? If so, how do you use it?

Yes, indeed. To reduce a complicated explanation to bare basics: I scan hand-drawn and photo-reference images into Photoshop, then use both a mouse and stylus to create layers, lines, colors, textures and draw additional images directly onto the tablet—whatever it takes to bring the illustration to finish.

How much time do you spend illustrating?

When working on a client project, I keep a very strict 10-hour, 6 day per week schedule. When creating promotional samples or working on my own books, I loosen it up to 6-hours per 5 days weekly. (This fall a family medical crisis put my work on temporary “hold,” but I’m slowly getting back on track.)

Do you have a studio set up in your house?

Yes, I do. I’m very fortunate to have a large room and loft area that accommodate a drawing table,easel, computer, printer, scanner, copier, a 8’x3.5’ work counter with horizontal storage, and 3 file cabinets full of reference clippings (some dating back to grammar school). Scads of shelves house more reference, paints, brushes , pencils and pens—not to mention a potpourri of chachkies. The closet full of dusty portfolio cases and canvases bears witness to a time before computers took over.

Any picture books on the horizon?

The Twelve Ravens , a Lithuanuian folktale which I have adapted, retold and illustrated, is a project I hope to have out by Fall, 2015. The eBook version is almost done, the print format awaits revision.

What are your career goals?
Beautiful books for beautiful children! I want to continue communicating to children of all colors and backgrounds through positive, bright and inspiring images. Whether my illustrations attain the stature of being published by the top trade publishers in the country or are independently made and distributed, my goal is to make each one better than the one before. I believe that concentrating on the work itself and not the fame or fortune it may bring is the only way an artist can maintain sanity in an ever-changing business world and culture.

What are you working on now?

As I mentioned, LETTUCE! and The Twelve Ravens are on my mind, but they may have to simmer on a back burner if my agent drafts me for a McGraw-Hill Education project for which I’ve recently been approved.

Are there any painting tips (materials, paper, etc.) you can share that work well for you? Technique tips?

Since I do all my “painting “ in Photoshop these days, there’s not much in the way of materials that I need to think about. But when working with colored pencils on paper or creating a “hybrid” piece where I draw onto a printed digital image, I like to use a wonderfully smooth paper called Mohawk Superfine. It is a 100 lb. “ultra white” cover stock used by the printing industry. It is receptive to the toner inks in my printer and is a perfect surface for multiple layers of Prismacolor pencils.

Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career?

Like a man walking a tight rope, look straight ahead, never down. In creative, competitive fields, people who remain positive, patient, and intrinsically motivated—eventually prevail. Or as a colleague once remarked, “I can’t NOT do this…” Really, what other choice does a true artist have? So, KEEP AT IT!


Thank you Diana for sharing your journey and process with us and helping us kick off 2015. You can visit Diana at her website: http://www.dianakizlauskas.com to see more of her work.

If you have a moment I am sure Leeza would love to read your comments. I enjoy them too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, authors and illustrators, demystify, illustrating, Illustrator Sites, Illustrator's Saturday, inspiration, Interview, Process Tagged: Diana Kizlauskas, Digital Art, Ray College of Design, University of California

9 Comments on Illustrator Saturday – Diana Kizlauskas, last added: 1/6/2015
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22. Parallelogram 4 Now Available for Pre-Order!

Parallelogram 4

Happy 2015! And here’s a new book for you!

Parallel universes. Time travel. And a race for teen amateur physicist Audie Masters to save her own life before it’s too late.

Enjoy the exciting, mind-bending conclusion to the PARALLELOGRAM series.

You’ll never look at your own life the same way again.

I am BEYOND ecstatic to be able to tell you that PARALLELOGRAM (Book 4: BEYOND THE PARALLEL) will be coming out January 20, 2015, and is available right now for pre-order! Yes! Finally!

This final book in the series took me a long, long time to write (as those of you who have been waiting for it can attest), but you’ll understand why once you read it. It’s full of adventure, mystery, love, some very cool science, and the return of what I hope are some of your favorite characters.

In celebration of the final book coming out, each of the first three books in the series will be a mere $2.99, and the new book will be only $4.99–but only until January 20. After that, all of them return to their regular prices.

So if you haven’t read the first three books in the series yet, now’s your chance. I’m your book nerd friend who’s saying, “Come on! Come on! Catch up so we can discuss it!”

Can’t wait to hear what you all think. I truly wrote this series for YOU!

You can pre-order Book 4 from:

Thanks for being my readers! Hope you love the book!

0 Comments on Parallelogram 4 Now Available for Pre-Order! as of 1/5/2015 4:59:00 AM
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23. New Year’s Resolutions: How To Make Them Stick!

Writing Life Banner



First up: As you read this, I’m heading out on tour in the US! If you’re in Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston, Miami, New York, DC or Asheville, I’d love to meet you! If you’d like a signed book but can’t make a stop, the stores can arrange one for you. This is the only time I’ll be in the US in 2015, so come say hi, and make sure you tell me you’re a Pub Crawler! Now, on to today’s post…

It’s that time of year, and most of us jump in every January with a pile of new resolutions. Then, in December, most of us remember them with a guilty start, and wish we’d done better. It’s okay to admit it — you’re in a judgement free zone!

So, how do we do better? How do we make sure the resolutions we make in January actually impact our lives in 2015? At the bottom of this post I’m going to invite you to share yours, and I’d love to hear at the end of the year how you went!

To get us started, here are some of my writing-related resolutions for 2015:

1. Read 52 books — one for every week.

2. Complete drafts of two novels.

3. Yoga at least 5 days a week.

4. Do better at taking evenings off from writing.

5. Average 10,000 steps per day.

If you’re pondering what sort of resolutions to make, I recommend Marissa Meyer’s post on Business Plans for Writers, which I use every year to get myself thinking about my goals.

Goals and Aspirations

The main thing is to remember that there’s a difference between a goal and an aspiration. One you control, the other you don’t. Goals should be measurable, and they should be things you can personally do.

For example:

Goal: I’m going to be ready to query by March, and send out my first ten queries that month.

Aspiration: I’m going to sign with an agent in 2015.

Goal: I’m going to finish polishing my draft and send it to my agent by May.

Aspiration: I’m going to sell a novel this year.

See the difference? And the great thing about the goals is that they’re easily broken down into steps.


If you want to send out ten queries in March, you can set up mini-goals for January and February around researching agents, and finishing polishing up your query and your manuscript. Those mini-goals can make all the difference. Rather than getting to March and realising you’ve got a bazillion things to do if you want to make it (and really, either not making it, or not doing it as well as you could), you can make sure you’re on track by breaking down your goal and putting it in your diary.

For Example

Let’s take my goals. How will I achieve them?

1. Read 52 books — one for every week. I’ll achieve this by keeping a spreadsheet and tracking whether I’m up to date. I’ll have a goal of five books for each month, which gives me a little wriggle room. I’ll have a ready-to-go queue of books sitting on my mantlepiece so I can easily grab the next one, and I’ll make a folder on my e-reader of books I’m planning on reading next.

2. Complete drafts of two novels. I’d better do this one, since they’re both due to publishers this year! In consultation with my co-authors, I’ll set up mini-goals for where we want to be each month of the year, so we know we’re tracking on time.

3. Yoga at least 5 days a week. I’ll achieve this by pairing up with an accountability buddy (an accountabilibuddy, vital to resolutions!) and scheduling a class every week with her. I’ve got an app that has my favourite routines on it, and I’ll make sure I check in with my buddy to report on whether I’m doing it the rest of the time. I’ve also enlisted my husband to work out with me a couple of times a week. (By the way, if this doesn’t sound like a writing-related goal, just eavesdrop on a group of authors… the subject of back pain will come up soon enough!)

4. Do better at taking evenings off from writing. One of the disadvantages of loving your job to pieces is that you’re not always very good at stopping! I’m going to be achieving this one by setting a hard stop time each evening, and I’ve put notes in my diary to check in with myself on whether I’m achieving it. I’ve also enlisted a couple of friends to check regularly with me.

5. Average 10,000 steps per day. My biggest ally on this one will be my beloved treaddesk, but of course it takes more than that! I’ll be using my Fitbit to make sure I’m averaging 70,000 steps each week, and I’ve added a bunch of buddies on there who have promised to taunt me if I fall behind!

So, time to share! What are your goals, and how are you planning on breaking them down and achieving them this year? I’d love to hear!

Amie Kaufman is the co-author of THESE BROKEN STARS and THIS SHATTERED WORLD, out now from  from Disney-Hyperion (US) and Allen & Unwin (Australia). You can also grab a free short story set in the Starbound universe! Her new trilogy will start with ILLUMINAE, coming from Random House/Knopf in 2015. She is represented by Tracey Adams of Adams Literary. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr or Facebook, or sign up to her mailing list for exclusive sneak-peeks and giveaways. Amie lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her husband and rescue dog.

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24. How to squeeze more words out of your time

Do you ever find yourself polishing the same paragraph over and over, moving a clause here, changing a verb there, and not ever actually adding any new words?

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

Here are some tools that have helped me more productive:

  • The Pomodoro Technique

  • Freedom

  • Write or Die

  • Twitter sprints

The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is great for big projects like novels. (Its inventor, Francesco Cirillo, named it after a timer shaped like a tomato, or, in Italian, a pomodoro). It has helped me be more productive by making me focus.

Set a timer for 25 minutes and start working. Let nothing - not the doorbell, not the phone, not the ping of an email or a text - interrupt you. Stop as soon as the timer goes off. You’ve just completed a pomodoro.

Now set the timer for five minutes and do something that isn’t work. Go to the bathroom, make a cup of coffee, check those emails or texts. But you only have five minutes and you must stop as soon as the timer goes off. Repeat the first two steps until you’ve completed four pomodoros. Now you can take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.

Want to know more? Go to http://www.pomodorotechnique.com  Or find a free online timer, go here: http://tomato-timer.com

Freedom is a program that won’t let you go on the Internet until a set of amount of time (as long as eight hours - you decide) has expired. I resisted using Freedom for a long time, basically because it cost $10. I figured I was an adult. Which meant I should be perfectly able to set limits and stick to them. For example, I should be able to write on my laptop without taking a peek at the Internet every five minutes for "research" or to see if I've gotten any important emails. Then I gave the free trial a whirl. The first time, I only set the time-out period for 15 minutes. And realized I probably would have clicked on the Internet a dozen times if it weren't for Freedom.Now I use it in conjunction with the Pomodoro Technique. You can find out more at: http://macfreedom.com.

They also sell a program called Antisocial that will lock you off certain sites, but I haven't used it.  Have you?

Write or Die
Writers often get stuck. I think that largely stems from the fear that what you write will suck. That’s where Write or Die can help, by forcing you to stop overthinking and just write. Write or Die is a free program on the Internet. (You can also purchase it to use on your desktop or iPad.)

You set how many words you want to write and you set the amount of time you want to write them in. You also set consequences, which range from gentle (pop-up reminder) to kamikaze (keep writing or words start disappearing). When you’re done, you save the text by selecting it and then copying and pasting into your own word processing program.

I make a running list of ideas - scenes, characters - that I could take to Write or Die. And at least once a day, I set the time for 15 minutes and the number of words for 500. It works best if you don’t over think it - or even think at all. Instead, write as fast as you can and describe the brightest colors, the softest sounds, the way something feels under the character’s fingertips. What are your characters saying? What are they feeling and not saying?

I don’t end up using everything I write on Write or Die, but often I’ll come up with something unexpected and wonderful.

You can try it for yourself at http://writeordie.com (scroll down if you don’t see it).

Twitter sprints
There's something about competition that gets most of us to work harder, longer or faster than we would if we were doing it in isolation. So if you're looking for someone to spur you on, look for hashtags like #wordsprint or #1K1hr .

What works for you?

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25. What happens in the middle?


Jodi Meadows

I’ve talked about beginnings (here, too) and endings (and here’s one from Sooz), but recently someone mentioned they’d really like some thoughts on middles.

A lot of times, when people get stuck in the middle of their book, it’s because they’re not totally sure what the middle is supposed to do.. Obviously the beginning sets up conflicts and the ending resolves them, but the middle? The middle is all opportunity to make things worse.

Here’s a handy numbered list.

1. Build on established conflicts.

Take a look at what you’ve already done. Build on that by reinforcing something the characters already know, or the reader knows, and show something in action.

  • If there’s a monster marauding through the city in the first part of the story but we haven’t seen it yet, this is a great time to give us a peek. (Cue JAWS theme.)
  • If someone’s threatened war, let them announce the war is on.
  • If there’s a plague, start killing side characters right in front of your main characters.

Show the reader that these conflicts you’ve set up are that serious by giving everyone a hint of what’s to come. The middle is the perfect spot for making everything real

2. Complicate established conflicts.

Yep, I’m counting this as different than building, because by complicating conflicts, you can use twists and reveals and other things to make everything worse.

  • Someone betrays our main characters.
  • Another character appears to shake things up.
  • The characters attempt to solve the problem and they make it worse.
  • Information is revealed and suddenly everything we thought was true is an awful lie.

I always feel like the middle is my last chance to introduce new complications to the story, be it characters or events. For me, introducing those later starts to feel a bit contrived, unless there’s a sequel and something at the very end happens to complicate the situation for the next book.

3. Nudge your characters toward the end.

You’ve just made everything awful. Give them something useful.

  • Information that can help them later (even if they don’t know it yet).
  • A hint about how they might solve the big problems.
  • Even give the poor characters a chance to plan to take some kind of action.

This is your chance to line up those last few dominos so everything can just go horribly (violently!?) wrong in the ending. Godspeed.

So, that’s my basic thoughts on middles. Anyone have anything to add?

Jodi Meadows lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict, and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy and THE ORPHAN QUEEN Duology (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen).
*A Kippy is a cat.

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