National Parks Birthday – 100 Years Old Today! (Yellowstone National Park)


I took Stu Patterfoot to visit Yellowstone National Park. This was the first US National Park, signed by an Act by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. The park is mostly within the state of Wyoming, but also covers parts of Idaho and Montana.

It displays many geothermal features, like Hot Springs and Old Faithful Geyser, which Stu is sitting in front of. Besides the unique land features, there is also an abundance of wildlife.

This park, particularly is near and dear to me because long ago, between college semesters, I spent a summer in the park. I was a cabin maid at Mammoth Hot Springs.  This was my first time seeing mountains up close, and took me nearly two weeks before I no longer felt like I was walking inside a picture. The entire summer was one wild adventure. Back then, there were a few times at work when my maid-partner and I waited inside a cleaned cabin to allow a bear or bear family to wander on past us before we deemed it safe enough to dash to the next cabin to clean.

Although I haven’t added geothermal features to any of my stories (yet), nor bison or many of the hundreds of unique experiences or near-misses I experienced that summer working in Yellowstone, all my adventures are stored with many of them sneaking into my characters’ adventures. I strongly encourage you all to get out and experience nature, over and over again. The National Park Service has over 400 “units” to explore. ( This is our country.

I’ll now return you to your regularly scheduled author writing posts. Keep on writing.

IMAG0003 IMAG0025 IMAG0059

One Week From Writers’ Conference

Next week at this time I’ll be on an island in northern Michigan for our SCBWI fall writers’ conference along with Arthur Levine and Jodell Sadler, just to name-drop a couple of speakers. I also will be on a panel discussing non-traditional publication and epublication. No pressure.

It’s a five-hour drive up there, a ferry ride across to the island, and staying in a hotel twice as expensive than what I’d normally spend. Will it be worth it? Every minute and every penny!

Besides the incredible amount of knowledge intake from an event like this, there are the reunions with writers and illustrators I haven’t seen for a while and the networking and meeting of new comrades. The excitement builds. So do my worries. Even a seasoned conference-goers like myself has some concerns. Will I make the right travel connections? Will the travel weather and the island weather be lovely, horrid, or not matter?  Will I bring too much, too little? Will I be able to speak without having a cotton ball throat, even to greet people, or want to hide in my room?

I therefore share two important things to know when attending a writers’ conference: 1) It’s not about you; and 2) It’s all about you.

For the first point, it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing cute shoes. Really. It doesn’t matter that you feel insecure about a thousand things. Only you will know that. Every other honest person would admit the same. You will need to step outside of worrying about the way you look or speak or act, and try to set yourself free for the weekend. Breathe deeply. You are there for your written words (or illustrations). Quit looking in a mirror. Straighten up. Stand tall. Remember, it’s not about you.

For the second point, it really is all about you, or rather what you represent. You are at the conference not only to learn, but also to connect with others in similar positions as you. The world of writing and illustrating for kids is a wonderful avocation/vocation with dynamic people who care — care about fellow writers and illustrators, and care about our readers. We’re all in this together. Reach out to others. Talk. Share. Reflect. Take home ways to better your craft  and to proceed into a lifetime of this twisting and changing and wonderfully spinning career choice. Remember, it’s all about you.

Mackinac Island SCBWI-MI 2014 Conference, look out! Here we come!


In Support of Writing Groups, like SCBWI or NaNoWriMo

Do you feel writing is a lone adventure? If you answer, “The writing part is,” I can accept that. In order to get the rough draft out, you yourself must sit down and dedicate the time to actually do it. If you answer the entire writing process is a lone adventure, I want to take your hand and welcome you into the world of writers.

Today I overheard a woman in our Barnes and Nobel who had written a YA, self-published it, her family loved the story, and she was asking the clerk how to sell her book since B&N wouldn’t take it on. I didn’t exactly stalk her, but felt as though I was led to her this morning. So I introduced myself and walked with her out to the parking lot. It was a short conversation with little eye contact. Poor thing probably was fumbling in her pocket for her phone, hoping her fingers could dial 911 without looking at it. I politely asked about her YA book, and then if she was in any writing group. No, she wasn’t. I asked if she’d heard of SCBWI. No, she hadn’t. But she had to meet her sister for lunch, so good-bye. I gave her my business card and wrote the SCBWI national website on the back. I don’t know her name, but I do hope I had more of an influence than just terrorizing her.

I remember my early days of writing, alone, when my mom gave her writing advice for me to publish my stories in Reader’s Digest or get Oprah to talk about it on her show.

I remember joining a live writing group where I was the only children’s author, and after reading a piece, everyone consistently responded with, “Oh, how nice,” or “I’m sure children will like it.”

I remember driving nine hours to a generic writers conference where twelve of us children’s authors moved about huddled together from one workshop (on romance) to another (on marketing your book) to another (on using correct forensics evidence in your story). (Love you Pikes Peak Writers Conference folk!)

And then I met SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and fell in love.

In support of writing groups:

1) Other writers encourage you to, well, write and to finish writing what you’ve started.

2) Honest critique group people (with other than family members) will point out inconsistencies or spelling or grammar errors. After all, we all want to be not only writers, but good writers.

3) Paying a club fee for a wealth of information treasure is well worth it. The site is full of helpful information, about writing, about agents, about editors, about what’s current, etc. There are also national groups like RWA (Romance Writers of America) or WWA (Western Writers of America), just to name two others.

4) Attending conferences hooks you up with agents, editors, and a flock of similar-thinking writers.

5) With online courses and groups, the information world concerning writing is abundant. In a couple of weeks starts NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month), where the challenge is to write 50,000 words in 30 days, or 1,667 words per day. You may never meet any of the NaNo writers face to face, but you know there are thousands of others taking up the challenge along side of you. You can do it! You are not alone.

So if you are not in a writing group… why not!

My SCBWI-MI Children’s Garden

Literature Blogs

We’re coming up to the one-year anniversary of the storm which damaged our house and yard and lives. (News Flash: The last dumpster just left our neighborhood only a week ago! Hallelujah!)

After the 2011 Memorial Weekend Storm, a SCBWI friend (waves to Ruth) suggested on our listserv that we Carlsons could use money. I didn’t know that was coming. I was humbled by the response of three writing strangers from SCBWI-MI (waves to Valerie, Ginny, and ABC — forgive me, ABC; I can’t remember the name of generous person #3). Also, another MI writer (waves to Ann) sent me a box of irises, one which has already bloomed!

With our house broken for nearly six months, and our yard still needy, it was difficult to decide what to do with these special monetary gifts from my writer friends. Instead of using the money to replace food or for cleaning supplies, I decided to start a SCBWI-MI Children’s Garden around my yard. I worked at the Battle Creek Children’s Garden for a while, so I didn’t lack inspiration. Here is what I have done and planned so far:

That I can now grow sun-craving veggies in my yard goes without saying — only, I just said it. I’ll have a salsa garden and maybe a pizza garden.  How about a sunflower house, anyone? (These are still in the works as the soil warms up enough for those summer crops.)

I bought seven stepping-stones to make a rainbow walk among my hostas and irises on the north side of the house, where there is actually shade. We went from 90% shade to 90% sun in just about ten seconds. Each time I pass, I go out of my way to walk the rainbow . It lightens my heart.

I made a smiley face accent with a grass walkway separating the “mouth” from the rest of the garden area (mostly irises at the moment) on the east side of the house. Inside the smile are roses, peonies, more irises, and a tall purple perennial I can’t remember the name of right now, either. I’ll call it LMN, since I know it starts with an L. I think it starts with an L.

At the top of our little western hill, next to what used to be a wooded lot, I’ve started Daffodil Hill. The twenty bulbs I planted there last fall looked stunning this spring, and reminded me of SCBWI-MI whenever I saw them.

Of course, there is the start of The Animal Garden, with tiger lilies and lamb’s ear beneath the dogwood tree. I have an elephant’s ear planted off to the side since it’s supposed to grow rather bushy.

Finally, is my chocolate garden. I already have chocolate mint, which, as a writer, I must say is a rather verbose plant. I plan on getting brown and black flowers to bloom at different times through the season, with maybe some white chocolate blooms sprinkled in there, too. I will mulch that section with cocoa bean shells. Yummy.

Thank you, SCBWI-MI. You have my heart.


Non Conference Goers Alternative

Literature Blogs

This weekend is our local SCBWI chapter’s annual fall conference — for the first time, it was held on Mackinac Island. (Heaving a long, wishful sigh.) For about a month, chatter on our listserv has been mostly about the upcoming conference. Since about three-fourths of the chapter members are not at the conference, I thought I’d start a discussion on the listserv about what books we each are reading. The responses plum made me grin. Writing is about so much more than writing, or even reading for that matter, but it’s a start. There were books others mentioned which I’d been meaning to read and now have been given that extra nudge. Community. We may write alone, but we are not alone. Even though we 200+ were not on the idyllic island, trying to pay attention to dynamic and inspirational speakers, we are still connected, as writers, as readers, as adventurers.

Today, I finished a Louis L’Amour book (not in my writing genre, but it’s essential to read out of your genre now and then). I also am reading through THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron, taking one chapter per week as the book suggests, in order to unblock my blocked creativity. Of course, several of the suggestions in her book would work best if I were a monk, uninvolved in this ole world.

So…? What books are you reading at the moment?

Writer’s Inspiration Boost

 Literature Blogs

I’ve been thinking and thinking and thinking of how to connect two main characters in one of my novels (besides the obvious conflicts). I need (want) them to be interconnected, but I can’t brainstorm how they do. It’s been a struggle on my poor brain. I think about them, wander away, sometimes for a couple months, then come back to think some more. I keep wondering why it’s not working, or if I should just trash one character or perhaps the entire story. (It’s not really writer’s block. Although, I admit, I don’t know what that is besides an excuse.) However, the problem makes me wonder about various ways to boost inspiration and imagination and creativity.

1) Eat well, sleep well, get exercise, see your doctor. Being pain-free, and having blood moving swiftly through your body and into your little grey cells, can only help stimulate writing thoughts and get those creative juices flowing. Sometimes when I’m stuck, I take a LONG walk. This does three things for me: unfreezes my stiffened muscles from sitting hours in one position at my computer; distracts me with neighborhood happenings; and releases some built up story-making-adreneline to free my mind to think more clearly.

2) Get off of drugs which make your brain sluggish. (Talk with your doctor about this one.)

3) Get onto drugs, which make your brain a wilderness to explore. (A Federal Marshall I know who is a mystery writer solves his writer’s block or plot problems by “sitting down with Jack” (a bottle of Jack Daniels) until he comes up with a solution in his plot. Personally, I think this way would turn my mind to mush, so it’s not something I recommend; just something I know works for one crazed writer.)

4) Find writing support. Join a writing organization and participate. You can also find writing support by taking a class or by reading books on craft. Three of my favorite ones include ON WRITING, THE FIRST FIVE PAGES, and NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS: UNCOMMON WAYS TO REVISE. In the Nov/Dec 2010 issue of SCBWI bulletin, Kate Dopirak writes about forming her “writing team” in a classroom of middle school kids. A self-published author I know uses his “editors,” who are six beta readers, including librarians and teachers. There are unlimited writing support groups on-line (critique groups, forums, listservs, blogs, etc). It can be done live (critique groups, writing conferences, going to hear visiting authors, local write-ins, etc.). 5) Step back from the story. Maybe start another one. But then come back to your original story, knead out those bumps, and become an award-winning author.

What additional ways do you have to boost your writing?

SCBWI-MI Fall 2010 Writers Conference, Final Conference Post

 Literature Blogs

The final speaker-talk at our SCBWI-MI Fall Writers Conference was Darcy Pattison. She spoke on Social Media. First, she did a hand-show questionnaire. I must admit that I felt rather proud of our chapter with so many raising their hands to having a website, a blog, on FaceBook, on Linked In, on Good Reads, YouTube, etc.

Darcy told us to focus, that social media is driven by content.

Know who you are – What do you like to do, consistently?

Who is your audience? Kids? Parents? Teachers? Librarians? Writers? Illustrators? Your on-line presence is different, depending on your audience.

When do you do things on line? For instance, Twitter is today’s news gotten yesterday.

Where does your cyber audience live? (i.e., which listservs, forums, chats, etc)

Research what is typical for what you like. Follow 10-15 blogs. Join in on conversations; leave comments.

Why do social media? Darcy did it to find a peer community. (I can relate to this point. When I lived in South Dakota, there were a total of twenty-eight SCBWI members in both North and South Dakota combined. The closest member to me lived several hours away. My live critique group in Rapid City were all adult writers who thought what I wrote was “nice.” Yeah. Needed more than that – a peer community.)

Put sustenance of real value on your blog. Don’t let it just be about me, me, me. Let what you say be of value to your audience.

 There was so much more she shared, lots of interesting details or suggestions. Buy her books or CD, or go to a conference or retreat where she is a speaker. You will not regret it. Check her out at (Thanks, Darcy.)

SCBWI-MI Fall 2010 Writing Conference, Pt 3

 Literature Blogs

At the writers conference a week ago, I was honored to get into Darcy Pattison’s workshop, “Using the Hero’s Journey to Enhance Your Novel.” Darcy is amazing, and so spot-on in her craft of writing suggestions. I highly recommend her books, CDs, or attending her novel revision workshop (which I sincerely hope to do someday).

Darcy based her talk (tweeked to that which only Darcy can do) on THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, by Chistopher Vogler. At the conference, I bought two copies — one for me and one as a gift. This post is paraphrased from Darcy’s talk. Formulas are meant just guides.

The big picture (of your story) is in three Acts: Act One (approx 8 chapters) is the set up; Act Two (approx 16 chapters) is the twists and turns; and Act Three (approx 8 chapters) is the resolution.

Act One Objectives: show the hero in his/her ordinary world, call to adventure, refusal, crossing the threshold.

Act Two Objectives: tests, enemies, allies, approach to inmost cave, supreme ordeal, reward.

Act Three Objectives: the road back, resurrection, and return with elixir.

Darcy used BRIDGE TO TERABITHA for her example throughout the workshop, with some mention of the original STAR WARS. Some of my own  favorite fantasy stories which also follow this “formula” are THE HOBBIT, LOTR, and THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE. The formula works!

On to work on my own writing. <deep and heavy sigh> Writing is such hard work.

SCBWI-MI Fall 2010 Writing Conference, Pt 2

Literature Blogs

On Saturday, October 9, 2010, Susan Chang, Senior Editor at Tor, spoke to our group. This was her second SCBWI conference. There was much she shared in the ninety minutes. This is a brief summary.

Susan continues to be fascinated with the publishing process, after eighteen years in it, the last seven years at Tor. Tom Dorety formed Tor in 1980. In 2002, Starscape was started fo 8-12 year old readers. In 2003, TorTeen was stated for 13-19 year old readers.

Twelve years old is the reader age when science fiction/ fantasy reading starts. This, of course, does not include fantasy of talking animals, etc in picture books.

Not every editor is the right match for a good story.

Agents are looking for you. But… if you query fifty agents and receive all rejects, take a step back. Writing needs to sparkle. Ideas are easy to come up with. Susan added, “I don’t write because it’s too damn hard.”

Good SF/F writing has action and suspense with strong, flawed characters.

Two books she suggested reading are DEAR GENIUS and SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS.

After our primary needs, the need for story is very basic. Book have the ability to change lives.

Tight Writing

 Literature Blogs

I must gather my thoughts (and notes) from this past weekend’s SCBWI-MI writers conference. Lots of great stuff to allow to soak in. I’ll pass on my notes soon. In the meantime… We all hear about how important it is to have tight writing. Here is an excellent example:

A university creative writing class was asked to write a concise essay containing these four elements:
1) religion
2) royalty
3) sex
4) mystery

The prize-winning essay read:
“My God,” said the Queen. “I’m pregnant. I wonder who did it?”