One Writer’s Journey

August 24, 2018

5 Minutes a Day: World Building

Recently I read a post on the SCBWI Summer Conference Blog about Malinda Lo’s session on world building.  As a science fiction and fantasy author, Lo spoke on the importance of creating a culture and setting that make the story feel real.  This isn’t something that takes place only in science fiction and fantasy.  As I read this post, I realized that it is something I am doing in my mystery.

Here are 4 5-minute exercises you can do to help build your setting.

  1. What do people notice?  When someone steps into your world, what is the first thing that they notice.  I live in Missouri.  When exchange students from Malaysia arrived here in the fall, even these young people from Southeast Asia commented on the humidity.  Yep.  We’ve got that in abundance.  In the alpine deserts of New Mexico and West Texas, it is the space. At the base of a mountain or an overlook, you notice that you can see a remarkable distance.
  2. Unique food or drink. There is going to be something, no matter where you are, that no one else seems to eat.  Louisville has a turkey sandwich called the Hot Brown.  St. Louis has toasted ravioli and crab rangoon.  Texas and the Southern US?  Sweet tea.  What is it in your setting?
  3. What is the question that people ask?  In St. Louis, everyone asks where you went to highschool.  Outsiders don’t get it, but this question reveals where you live, your socio-economic status and whether or not your family has engaged in white flight. Other questions that can be just as telling are what sport your child plays and where you picked up the gift for a child’s birthday party.
  4. Unspoken rules.  Rules are something that Lo spoke about.  Unwritten rules are tough and every place has them.  I remember staying with my aunt in Florida.  She sent me to my room to change 4 times.  She wouldn’t say, “You can’t wear slacks to church.” Finally I had to start putting on my mom’s clothes which solved the problem.  She packed no slacks. I packed no skirts.  A lot of these rules have to do with clothing but there are also a lot of food rules – no one eats tacos with chocolate sauce or stuffs a turkey with hot dogs. What are the unwritten rules of your setting?

Take five minutes and brain storm one of these topics.  Work through all five of them and you’ll have pulled together information on the physical world of your story as well as the culture.




June 26, 2018

KS/MO Conference: Apply for the Scholarship

Society of Children’s Book Writer and Illustrator conferences aren’t cheep but they are well worth the price.  If you’d like to attend the fall SCBWI Kansas/Missouri conference but can’t swing the tuition, apply for the Vanderpool Work of Promise Scholarship.

The scholarship honors the 2011 Newbery winner and SCBWI Kansas/Missouri member, Clare Vanderpool. The scholarship includes conference registration, lunch, and a one-on-one consultation with the faculty editor or agent of the recipient’s choice. To be eligible, you must be:

  • An SCBWI members (published or pre-published)
  • A resident of Kansas or Missouri

There is an application form to fill out.  You can download it here.  Check out the complete instructions for completing the form and submitting your sample work.  You can find complete information on the scholarship page of the regional web site.  Email with your questions.  Applications will be accepted from from Saturday, June 23, to Sunday, July 22.

And last but not least?  Good luck!


May 21, 2018

Writing Events: Why Do You Go?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:25 am
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This week, I’ll be posting about the Kansas-Missouri SCBWI writing retreat this past weekend.  First things first, it was an amazing event.  While there, someone asked me about my priorities in going to a writing event.  Do I go to meet agents and editors or my fellow writers?

Short answer:  Both

Medium answer: I never pick an event if I’m uninterested in the editors or agents but I also take full advantage of the opportunity to network with writers.

Long answer: If you have the opportunity to attend an event with Karen Boss from Charlesbridge, go.  Do not hesitate.  Hock the silver.  Just go.  Everyone came away knowing how to improve their manuscript whether it was picture book, middle grade or young adult, fiction or nonfiction.  She is a dynamic teacher.

But the editor/agent is only one opportunity.  Because of my membership in SCBWI, attending events, and meeting my fellow writers, I have work published through:

The Institute of Children’s Literature



Writer’s Digest

Writer’s Market

Young Equestrian Magazine

This may not look like much, but tally up my sales to each of the above and I estimate it would be 75% of my work.  I didn’t make these sales because I met an editor or agent at an event.  I made these sales because I met a writer.

One writer asked if any of us were interested in writing how-tos for our fellow writers.  She sent our names to her editor.

Several times an author has told me about a sale to a particular magazine or newsletter. After hearing about these experiences, I pitched and made sales.

Another time a writer gave me the name and e-mail addy of her editor.  I sent my application directly to the person who would do the hiring.

Yet another time I met a writer who later became an editor.

Not once have I made a sale to the big name editor or agent.  I haven’t given up, but I also keep my eyes open for those other opportunities.  You never know when you will meet someone who knows a guy or gal who is key to your next writing venture.


February 15, 2018

SCBWI: Anti-Harassment Policy

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:15 am
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In light of recent news in the children’s publishing world, SCBWI has put a new anti-harassment policy in place.  NOTE:  Anti-harassment.  I’ve seen a few people call it a harassment policy.  No.  Anti-harassment.

The reworked policy holds all faculty, staff, and participants to the same Code of Conduct which states that prohibits harassment which includes but is not limited to:

  • Deliberate intimidation, stalking, or following.
  • Sustained disruption of talks or other events.
  • Inappropriate physical contact.
  • Unwelcome sexual attention.
  • Abusive verbal comments.
  • Quid pro quo – sexual harassment that occurs when one in an authority position requests sex or a sexual relationship in exchange for professional consideration or favors.

The policy notes that people can still disagree with each other and also deliver critique because “SCBWI continues to welcome and appreciate presentation of controversial ideas, free speech, and creative artistic expression.”

If you are an SCBWI member or attend SCBWI events, please read the policy and procedures here.  A formal reporting procedure is in place and all complaints will be investigated.  Educate yourself.  Keep your eyes open.  And, if you see a problem, step up, speak out and help make our community a safer place.




January 22, 2018

SCBWI: The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:37 am

I’m often asked whether or not I think it is worthwhile to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).  I never hesitate to say yes but admittedly I am biased.  I was the regional advisor for Missouri for 10 years.  I would never have put that much effort into an organization that I wasn’t passionate about.

But like so many things, it is up to you to make it worthwhile.  When I first joined in the early 90s, I was a bit of a wall flower.  I was an inexperienced writer who didn’t have a lot to say.  I realized that I had a lot to learn but I found that by listening, most of my questions would be answered.  I attended small local workshops.  I read the newsletters.  And I absorbed everything.

By the time the big Missouri conference moved to St. Louis, I had a bit of experience as a writer. I had attended a handful of conferences in Springfield, Mo.  I was ready to volunteer.  Because I volunteered, I got face time with the speakers including agents and editors.  This is what many people think is the most valuable.  But I also got to know a number of other members.  When their editors needed writers, I expressed interest and landed several assignments.

As regional advisor, I attended a variety of events in addition to the ones we put on in Missouri.  I went to the big LA conference.  I’ve been to events in Illinois, Arkansas and Kansas City.  I know, I know.  It was Kansas City Missouri but it was a Kansas event.  I applied for grants and mentorships.

This coming year, I plan to take advantage of the some of the webinars.  I have to admit that I’ve yet to attend an SCBWI webinar although I have taken part in one on social and environmental justice for the Presbyterian Church USA.  What an experience!   I’m eager to duplicate it alongside fellow writers.

In my mind, the people are the best part of this organization.  There are so many generous authors and illustrators who are willing to share their time and expertise.  Yes, because of the internet, this is easier to find today than it was 20 years ago.  But SCBWI also has a wealth of publications, events and grants.  Published members have the opportunity to get their books on lists and take part in other programs to get their work in front of book sellers and consumers.

Study.  Listen.  Interact.  Say YES when an opportunity comes your way. Do these things and you will definitely get your money’s worth out of this organization.



December 15, 2017

Happy Book Birthday: An Opportunity to Promote Your Work

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:46 am
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Are you a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)?  If so, SCBWI has a new opportunity for PAL members to promote their books.

Beginning in February 2018, the Happy Book Birthday program offers members the chance to announce new books in the month each is released. This opportunity is available to both traditionally and independently published members. Send an email to This message should include:

Book title
Names of author and/or illustrator
Book cover
Maximum 25-word summary or statement

On the first of each month, a Book Birthday page will go up on the SCBWI web site. This announcement of books “born” that month will be live for two weeks.

The first announcement will be for books published in February 2018.  SCBWI will receive data for this announcement from December 15th through January 10th.  Get it in between those dates if you want to be included.  With so many members and so many member books, no exceptions will be made.

Can’t wait to see all the great books!


November 3, 2017

Reading List: The SCBWI 2017 Winter Reading List

I’ve got just over one chapter to rough and really need to have a full draft done today so I’m going to keep this short.  But truly this resource is meaty enough that you’re going to want to dig right in.  I”ll be back with another picture book post tomorrow.

The SCBWI 2017 Winter Reading List is out and my book, What Are Race and Racism? , is listed on page 49. I have to admit that I struggled with which book to submit.  I have several new ones out in 2017 and this one isn’t particularly upbeat.  But it is about an important topic.

This volume, as described by SCBWI:

“The Reading List Program includes books of all genres from our PAL authors and illustrators, both front list and backlist titles. This is an opportunity to find that book that a kid or teen will enjoy and can engage with the fun and adventure of reading. Authors and illustrators from close to your hometown to those around the world are featured on the List.”

The entire list is just over 120 pages long.  You can also download the list for a specific region.  Missouri is part of the Mid-South.

This list is a resource for libraries, teachers and bookstores.  All of the books are by Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators members.  It represents book in all genres and all juvenile age levels. Need a book list for your Christmas shopping?  Download this listing and search by key words.  You’re sure to find something for every young reader on your list.


October 19, 2017

Webinars: Writing Events You Can Attend from Home

I love taking MOOC. These online classes offer me the opportunity to learn from university and museum faculty from all over the world.  And I can do it from my desk which means that I can sit here and knit while watching lectures. (It drives my husband nuts but I really do focus better if my hands are busy.)   I take the majority of my classes through  They frequently offer a paid version for those who want college credit but since I’m doing it for fun, I also do it for free.

I have to admit that I’ve never taken advantage of a webinar although I can see the benefits.  Webinars offer similar content to a conference without the travel expenses.  They also tend to be much more affordable.

Although Society of Chldren’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) regions offer a variety of webinars, you have to go to each regions site to see what they have to offer.  With roughly 80 regions worldwide, that’s a lot of sites to look through to find events.

Fortunately one region, Nevada SCBWI is cataloging this content so that we can review it all in one place.  Just go to their webinars page and see who is offering what.  I have to say that the nonfiction webinar and the one on picture book dummies both look really interesting!

When you are looking at these listings, be sure to pay attention to the time zones.  You don’t want to sign up for something at 6:00 pm Pacific if you will be putting the kids to bed.  And also remember that you will need to direct your questions to the region offering the event vs contacting the Nevada Region.

Take a look at what’s available and maybe I’ll “see” you there!



September 20, 2017

12 Writing Books: 6 Books Librarians Recommend and 6 of My Favorites

Whenever I come across a list of must read writing books, I skim through it to see what I might discover.  So it’s not surprise I clicked through to read the list Terri Frank composed for a DIY MFA blog post.

When asked a variety of questions, the librarians queried each recommended a book.  Here is their 6 item list along with some commentary from yours truly.

Writer’s Market 2018 was recommended as a get started writing book. I have to admit that surprised me.  I would definitely recommend it to the writer who has several manuscripts under their belt and is ready to seek out an agent or editor, but a newbie?  I’m not so sure about that.  I do have my copy so don’t think I’m dissing it.  I’d just need to know what the newbie wanted to write before I made a recommendation.

No Plot? No Problem! Revised and Expanded Edition: A Low Stress,High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty was recommended for a writer who is prepping for NaNoWriMo.

Literary Market Place was the suggestion for a writer with a technical manual to sell.

The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker was recommended for the author who failed to connect with their plot.  I don’t know this book but I’m wondering how similar it is to Plot by Ansen Dibell which I have on my shelf.

Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction by Jack Hart was recommended for someone who plans to write a memoire.  I have to admit that I’m not madly in love with memoire but I’ve yet to find a nonfiction how-to that I love so I’ve requested this from my library.  I keep them very busy.

The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations by Mike Figgis is the book the librarian will be reading.  Wish my library had this one but they don’t so I may have to ILL it.  Like I said, I believe in providing job security for the local library staff.

So what 6 books would I recommend?

The Book: The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children.  This SCBWI book is a compilation of their market guides and other handy references tools.  Honestly, I use this more than I use Writer’s Market because it specializes in children’s markets.

Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul is the go-to book for anyone who wants to write picture books.  She analyzes the form, provides tons of information on the language and so much more.  Honestly, I try to find time to look through this every time I start a picture book project.

Novel Metamorphosis by Darcy Pattison.  This book is all about rewriting your novel.  It is a workshop in book form and if you follow it you will come out with a much better manuscript.  I mean it.  This is one every children’s novelist should own.

The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.  This is an essential book for someone who wants to have their anxious character do more than chew on his lip or wring her hands.  A great reference tool for emotions across the board and all types of characters.


Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang  is a how to that gives information on how the illustrations in a picture book convey emotion, lead the reader through the story, and more.  Read this one for a better understanding of how illustrations function.

The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson.  This is a great book for studying plot structure – the ups, the downs and how they all come together for a satisfying story.  A great tool for troubleshooting pacing and figuring out what isn’t quite working on your novel.

Hopefully between the DIY MFA list and my list, you’ll find something new to inspire your writing.  After all, we all need a little nudge every now and again.


August 4, 2017

SCBWI 2017 Reading List

Are you a PAL (Published and Listed) Member of SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators)?  If the answer is yes, SCBWI has a promotional opportunity for you might want to take advantage of.  
The Society isputting together a 2017 SCBWI Reading List to promote our PAL authors and illustrators.  As with previous lists this one will be shared with teachers, librarians, and booksellers. But this list offers another great opportunity.  SCBWI will have a booth at NCTE in November.  At this event, they will be handing out the list on flash drives!
Do you have a book on the SCBWI Winter 2016 Reading List?  They you are set and no action is needed (unless you want to add your website/see below). The Society is using the 2016 list as a basis for the new list.
Do you have a 2017 book you would like to see on the list?  You can even substitute it for your 2016 book. The important thing to remember is that there are a lot of us so each member can only contribute ONE BOOK.
To have a 2017 book listed or substituted for a 2016, send the following information to
25 Word (or Less) Book Description:
Your City and State of Residence:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:  (Use PreK-K, 1-2, 3-5, 6-8, or 9-12)
Your Website:
Including your website is a new feature of the list.  This means that if your book is from the 2016 listing, you can add your website to that listing.  Just send the following information to
The deadline for either a new entry or an addition is August 31, 2017.  
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an entry to update!
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