Thursday, January 31, 2008

Virtual Book Tour

A special welcome to all my online visitors today! And a big hello especially if you’re joining my site as the blog of the week listed in the Institute of Children’s Literature Children’s Writers eNews!

My Virtual Book Tour starts tomorrow on February 1 in honor of Black History Month. Throughout the month, we’ll be celebrating the release of my newest picture book, D IS FOR DRINKING GOURD: AN AFRICAN AMERICAN ALPHABET, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (Sleeping Bear Press).

There will be Trivia Questions to answer, Top Ten lists to submit suggestions for, author and illustrator interviews, classroom virtual “visits,” kids’ crafts to make, photos, videos, and more! Each time you post a comment on my blog during the tour or submit an answer to the Trivia Questions or a suggestion to the Top Ten lists, your name will be put in a hat. On the next to the last day of my tour, I’ll be drawing out names to give away five prizes—three 2008 African American history calendars and two $25 gift cards. Winners will be announced on the last day.

So hop on board and join the fun. Check back in tomorrow and join my Virtual Book Tour!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Featured Book!

Pappy's Handkerchief
By Devin Scillian
Illustrated by Chris Ellison

Young Moses and his family are barely scraping by. He helps his father in their fish stall selling each day's catch to passersby but times are hard in 1889 Baltimore. It's difficult to provide for a family of ten. But when they hear of free farmland out in Oklahoma, it sounds like the answer to their prayers. The family sells all they own and heads west to fulfill a lifelong dream.

Their wagon journey, however, is plagued with troubles from ice storms and flooded rivers to diminishing supplies and sickness. Yet Moses and his family persevere. They arrive in time to take a place along the boundary line that marks the staging point for the Oklahoma Land Run. But after making it this far, will even more bad luck prevent them from realizing their dream of owning their own piece of America?

Evocative paintings and spellbinding storytelling bring the Oklahoma Land Run to vivid life for young readers.

Meet Author Devin Scillian!
Web site:

If you know Devin Scillian at all, you get the feeling that "down time" is not a phrase that he's heard.

Devin anchors Local 4 News at 5, 6 and 11 p.m. on Local 4 and hosts WDIV's weekly current event news program "Flashpoint." He joined the WDIV team in August 1995.

Growing up, Devin was always on the move -- he's a self-described "Army brat." He considers Kansas and Oklahoma his neck of the woods. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas in 1985.

As an adult, Devin still can't be still -- whether jetting all over the world covering major news events, or "relaxing" by singing in front of hundreds of thousands of people.

His Web site, is subtitled "An American Storyteller." And, that couldn't be more true. Devin's stories have weaved their way from metro Detroit to vast corners of the world.

Devin's favorite book seems to be his passport. His news career has taken him all over the world, from the World Trade Center to the Red Sea, from Moscow, Russia to Sydney, Australia, from the streets of Port Au Prince, Haiti to St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. Whether it's the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece or the birth of Daimler Chrysler in Stuttgart, Germany, Devin has been there. His recent trip to China led to groundbreaking
reports on the crisis in American manufacturing.

However, both the proudest and saddest time of his career was for an event where he didn't have to go anywhere. Devin was a news anchor at KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City at the time of the Murrah federal building bombing. He describes the traumatic explosion (and its aftermath) as "a study of despair" but it was also a "life-changing lesson in the power of love and kindness." Devin helped the station win a prestigious Peabody Award for its coverage. He says the honor "remains for me a symbol of the marvelous potential of television news."

Covering events like that are Devin's favorite parts of the job. He says "having a front row seat for history and writing the first draft of history" give him the most pride.

His on-air career has not been without its embarrassing moments, though. Most memorable to Devin was the one night when he raced out of the newsroom into the studio just as the newscast was starting and grabbed what he thought was his suit jacket. It wasn't. Devin landed in his seat just as the camera came up on him wearing a size 38 regular coat. Devin's normal size is 44 long. In terms of how he looked, Devin says only, "it wasn't pretty."

Devin met his wife, Corey, in high school in Junction City, Kan. They are the parents of four children: Griffin, Quinn, Madison, and Christian. They also have a "flop-eared" rabbit named Pikachu and a golden doodle named Darby.

Devin's definition of "free time" might be considered work to others.

Devin has become a fixture in the children's section of your local bookstore. He's the author of ten books including "Fibblestax," "Cosmo's Moon," "P is for Passport," and the national bestseller "A is for America." In 2004, Devin was invited to read from his books at the White House. His newest book is "Pappy's Handkerchief," a tale of the Oklahoma
Land Run published by Sleeping Bear Press.

Devin is also an accomplished singer and songwriter having won the prestigious Detroit Music Award for Best Country Performer. His album "Tulsa" led to four singles on the European country music charts and the song "Half Past You" hit number one in Denmark. His children's album "A is for America" was a companion to the best-selling book. He has opened for the likes of Toby Keith, Reba McEntire, and LeAnn Rimes.

He's appeared on stage at Detroit's famous "Downtown Hoedown." His music has also aired in numerous television specials.

Devin, his wife and occasional co-author, Corey, live with their four children in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan.

Featured book: Pappy’s Handkerchief
Q: How do you hope to influence today’s young readers through this book?
A: I'd love for today's young readers to develop a sense of the kind of "all or nothing" decisions our ancestors made in settling our nation. As someone who's spent a lot of time Oklahoma, the Land Run is rather iconic to me. But I'm not sure there's a widespread understanding of what it was all about and how dramatic it was. And I'm hoping to shed
some light on the very unique history of African Americans in Oklahoma. The promise of free land is big enough, but it takes on an added depth when you think about the families of former slaves giving up everything to stake a claim on land that would be their own. At one time, there were more all black towns in Oklahoma than any other state. That's
something even many Oklahomans know little about.

Q: What books influenced you most of all when you were growing up?
A: The stories of Dr. Seuss always resonated with me. And later, the books of Shel Silverstein. But my favorite book was "My Side of the Mountain" by Jean George. Loved it, loved it, loved it. I also had a love affair with the set of encyclopedias in my house.

Q: Where do you get most of your ideas?
A: I'm really not sure. But I have to come to understand that a book's title is of critical importance to my writing process. With every one of my ten published books, the project began with a title. I find that when I come up with the right title first, it seems to jumpstart my imagination and the story tends to fall in line. It doesn't always happen quickly; I had the title "Cosmo's Moon" floating around in my head for years before the story finally took shape. ("Cosmo's Moon" was a line in the film "Moonstruck," so I suppose it's a reminder that a good idea can come from anywhere if we're paying attention.)

Q: Share one tip you’d like to give about gathering notes during the research process of writing a book.
A: If you had told me before I started, I'm not sure I would have believed that I would turn out as many nonfiction titles as I have. I really hadn't thought about the kind of research my books have required. Fortunately, the internet means you have the world's largest library at your fingertips. But I would point out two things that have become
really important to my process. First, while the standard kind of information is always important to develop, I think it's always important to find a scrap or two that seems new. (If the author is learning something, the reader may be, too.) Second, I try to keep
notes not just of data or information, but of small bursts of thought about how that information can be used. I can make a note that says "More than a billion people live in China." But more importantly, I need to note the thought that "In China, when someone says 'You're one in a million,' it means there are a thousand people just like you."
When I'm writing, I'll probably have clear recall of the hard data, but I'll need the note on my little whiff of inspiration to make that data come alive.

Monday, January 28, 2008

African American History: Did You Know...?

After the Civil War, Texas ranchers began hiring cowboys to drive their large herds of cattle along the Chisholm Trail and other trails leading north to railroad towns.

DID YOU KNOW that many African Americans found jobs as cowboys? They were riding the trails, herding cattle, and breaking in wild horses so that could be ridden. In fact, during the time of the long Texas cattle drives from the 1870s to the 1890s, one out of every five cowboys was an African American.

Cowboys had many important jobs to do. One was to help with the round-up. Round-ups were held once or twice a year. Cowboys rode their horses out from different ranches to gather up all the cattle in their area. The cowboys from the different ranches looked for the cattle that were branded with their own ranch's brand. The brand was a special mark that was put on each cow's back hip.

To make your own brand, gather the following materials:
Paper bowl, cereal size
Poster board
Thick string
Cardboard tube, about 3 feet long, such as from gift wrap
Shallow tray
Construction paper

Use the paper bowl to trace a circle on the poster board and cut it out. Draw a design of your brand on the poster board. Glue string over the design to make it stand out.

Carefully cut an X in the center of the paper bowl. Stick one end of the long carboard tube about 1 inch of the way through the X, gluing it if needed. Glue the poster board brand to the edge of the bowl as shown to complete your brand.

To test your brand, after the glue is dry, carefully dip the brand in a shallow tray of paint and stamp your design on a sheet of construction paper placed on the floor.

-from A Kid's Guide to African American History

Ask the Author:
Attention children, students, teachers, home-schoolers, families, and everyone who loves to read! If there is a question you'd like to ask about my newest book or my life as an author, post your question as a comment on my blog. I will be selecting questions to answer on my blog throughout the upcoming Virtual Book Tour celebrating the release of my newest book, D IS FOR DRINKING GOURD: AN AFRICAN AMERICAN ALPHABET. Mark your calendars to join in the fun! The tour starts February 1, 2008.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Book in A Month Club!

You're invited to join the BOOK IN A MONTH CLUB! Each year in March one of my critique groups participates in this club as we try to write an entire book in just one month. It's's zany...and it's fun! To find out more information and tips about how it works, you can visit my website and click on WRITERZONE, which has a link to the BOOK IN A MONTH CLUB.

This year since I already have a couple of long-term book manuscripts under contract, I'm planning to write a new picture book manuscript. Throughout the month of March, I'm hoping to post my progress here on the blog to help show you more about the world of writing a picture book from start to finish.

So hop on board and join the fun! Better yet--get your entire critique group to agree to meet the challenge of trying to write the first draft of an entire book manuscript--in just one month!

As I explained in my previous post on January 16, I'm targeting a specific publisher--Sylvan Dell--and have chosen my topic: a story about nocturnal and diurnal animals that would end up being a bedtime story. Yesterday, I went a my favorite scrapbook store and purchased two pieces of background paper--one is a picture of a big pillow for a kid's bed and the other has paw prints, in coordinating colors.

I've decided to keep a scrapbook of projects I'm working on for 2008. Last year, I kept a month-by-month scrapbook, but this year each spread will be for a certain project. It's helping me get excited about each project I planned on my Goal Planning Sheet. Also, it will help me stay focused and give me an incentive for actually completing the manuscript from beginning to end.

I also found some cute stickers to represent the main character of my story. Not only does this help me visualize my main character better, but it will provide a great accent on my scrapbook page! I'm continuing to jot down notes for the structure of the plot. I've chosen my 3 main characters. Now I want to choose names that fit them perfectly. I have a book of baby names, 35,000 BABY NAMES by Bruce Lanksy. It's a great resource for helping choose names because it states which culture the name originates from as well as the name's meaning.

I'm also making a list of bedtime picture books. Plus, I read an article in the January 2008 issue of Children's Writer ( about how to write bedtime stories. I have a subscription, so I photocopied the article to keep it handy and am trying to follow the tips. It says that bedtime stories should give "reassurance that everything is in its place and safe," be a book "that makes the child feel loved," and give the child "something comforting to think about" while going to sleep. I'm trying to structure my plot ideas to be sure to include these ingredients. I'm making a list of bedtime picture books and plan on borrowing them from my library and dissecting each one to see how it works.

Yesterday, I also started a pocket file folder to collect and organize my ideas. In the pocket folder, I put several file folders:
* one labeled Sylvan Dell where I'll put all my notes about the publisher I'm targeting
* one for research on diurnal and nocturnal animals
* one for notes about bedtime books
* one for notes about plot
* one for notes about characters
* one for the manuscript as I begin to type it in March

As you prepare to join the Book in a Month Club, here's a check-off list to help you get ready to start. March 1 is the official kick-off day! I'll be tracking my own progress here on my blog starting in March. Keep in touch and let me know how it's going for you!

1. Target one specific publisher.
2. Study their product line.
3. Find a hole in their list of a book that they haven't yet published but would fit into their list of books.
4. Read a how-to writer's book on the genre you're studying. (Eve Heidi Bine-Stock's HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN'S PICTURE BOOK: VOLUME 1 STRUCTURE is a personal favorite for writing picture books.)
5. Start to plan structure of your book. Write an outline. Determine plots and subplots if fiction.
6. Choose characters. Write characterizations and determine names of main characters, if fiction.

Ask the Author:
Attention teachers, home-schoolers, families, kids and everyone who loves to read! If there is a question you'd like to ask about my newest book or my life as an author, post your question as a comment on my blog. I will be selecting questions to answer on my blog throughout the upcoming Virtual Book Tour celebrating the release of my newest book, D IS FOR DRINKING GOURD: AN AFRICAN AMERICAN ALPHABET. Mark your calendars to join in the fun! The tour starts February 1, 2008.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Do You Want to be a Writer?

Chances are, if you dream about being a writer, you either loved to read as a child or are a natural storyteller! What a wonderful imagination you probably have!

As you take steps to make your dreams come true, let me encourage you. I started out knowing NOTHING about the field of writing. I didn't know about writers' conferences, critique groups, market guides, publishing houses, agents, queries or book proposals. I didn't even know how to type a manuscript in its proper format. I didn't even know the word "submissions" meant to send something to an editor--I just typed up my story and mailed it to the first magazine that came to mind!

Yet, little by little, step by step I moved forward in pursuit of my dreams of one day being a published author. And now I am! With over 70 books published in houses big and small, I am a full-time writer landing 3-4 new book contracts every year for the last ten years.

Often when I speak at a local writer's event, someone says, "Well, you can land a book contract because you're already established." I try to remind them that I started at square one, just like most of us do.

So, be encouraged! Take heart! Put on your writer's hat and sit down at your computer. Fasten on your seatbelt until you actually type at least one page of new material today on your manuscript. Step by step, day by day, you can work towards making your dreams come true!

Teacher Tip:
Many children also love the thought of growing up to be a writer. To encourage your students to enjoy writing, work together to make a classroom book. Structure it with a theme such as African American Heroes from A-Z or Animal Homes or Counting to A Million. Assign each student one or two pages of the book to write, then instruct them to draw a picture and write about it for the book. Assemble the pages together and bind them in a 3-ring notebook or between sturdy paper. Then display it in the class for everyone to enjoy!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Virtual Book Tour

I'm continuing to work a little bit each day to organize my upcoming Virtual Book Tour that starts on February 1, 2008. I'm busy as a bee getting all my ducks in a row since the tour will launch a week from tomorrow! Here are more tips on setting up your own:

Step One: See post on December 8, 2007.
Step Two: See post on December 12, 2007.
Step Three: See post on December 20, 2007.
Step Four: See post on January 3, 2008.

Step Five:
Get ready to launch the tour! Make sure all your stops are scheduled on your calendar and ready to go. Complete any author interviews and get a different author photograph to e-mail to each one. Send everyone on your schedule a press release and a jpg file of your book cover.

If your publisher didn't make a press release, it's not too hard to make your own. Include a picture of your book. (Scan the cover or copy and paste the picture from your publisher's website.) Write a short, catchy description of your book. Include the ISBN, price, and publisher's name along with contact information for those interested in purchasing the book. Add any pertinent news such as awards or availablity for booksignings, making sure everything fits on one page. And there you have it!

I also made a video on our family camcorder, burned it to a DVD, put it onto my Mac and uploaded it to YouTube. Then I copied and pasted the code YouTube gave me to put the video on my website. It's a video that explains the upcoming Virtual Book Tour and invites everyone to join in the fun! (You can see it on my post for January 19.) I also offer the video to anyone scheduled on my tour to post now on their website to alert their own online guests about the upcoming event.

If possible, start writing content for your tour NOW on your word processing program so all you have to do is cut and paste it into your blog each morning of the tour. This will save you lots of headache later if you wake up sick or something on a day of the tour. It will also help you work out the kinks now instead of under the pressure of the actual day's event.

Plan to connect with each of your scheduled stops the day ahead of their date to verify that everything is still a go. (Prepare an emergency plan in case someone doesn't follow through. I'm planning on posting various photos of my life as an author or a list of teacher tips in case something like this happens.) Before you actually post the link to their site, visit their site first thing that morning to make sure their site is ready for your online guests to visit.

If you haven't installed one already, post a counter on your blog to watch the traffic flow. Statcounter at offers a free, invisible one that provides lots of information and it's not too complicated to set up.

Tie up any final loose ends and finally--you're ready to go! Launch your Video Book Tour and enjoy the journey!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Goal Planning Workout

Yesterday, I hosted a mini-workshop at my local SCBWI Schmooze. We met at the nearby Borders and by the end of the session, we were all excited about taking our writing to the next level in 2008. Here are several strategies we discussed:

Set Personal Goals as a Writer
If you’d like to improve your craft and become a better writer in the year ahead, choose one or two specific goals to work toward. (Add other goals to this list if some come to mind!)
1. Become better at self-editing. Make a check-off list to help you self-edit your manuscript, including the following:
*Read each sentence and make sure it IS a sentence that starts with a capital letter, contains a subject and a verb, and ends with appropriate punctuation.
*Circle run-on sentences or sentence fragments. Fix.
*Circle every passive “to-be” verb. Change most to active.
*Check that your idea flows smoothly from point A to point B. Rearrange chunks of text if necessary.
*Check for genre specific items such as realistic dialogue and smooth transitions.
2. Become a better member of your critique group. (Join or start a critique group if you aren’t in one already!) Think about what you appreciate in the other members and make it your goal to improve. You can improve by arriving consistently on time, listening enthusiastically to other members’ projects, writing at least two positive comments on every page of their manuscripts, and wording criticism so that it is both constructive and encouraging.
3. Learn or polish basic grammar rules by reading at least one grammar book this year such as Write Right and The Elements of Style. Purchase an inexpensive copy of the Chicago Manual of Style at a used bookstore and refer to it often as you write.
4. Read a how-to book on improving your genre.
5. Read as many books in your genre as you can. Study them analytically. Type favorite sections out, word for word.
6. Keep a writer’s notebook of favorite author’s best samples, favorite character names to use in your projects, new ideas, and lists that can help you improve your writing.

Schedule in Time to Write on Your Calendar
1. Make a blank one-week calendar that lists every hour you’re awake. Make two copies. On the first one, shade in the actual times you wrote last week. On the second one, shade in times in the week ahead that you plan to write. Planning ahead helps make writing a reality. If possible, make a new calendar for each week ahead or purchase a daily planner and schedule in your writing time each week BEFORE the minutes slip away.
2. Set three main goals for the year ahead:
Goal #1: Work on a manuscript dear to your heart. Devote a portion of your writing time each week to work on a manuscript you feel passionate about. Steady progress on this manuscript helps keep you writer’s passion alive. Working title of this manuscript is:
Goal #2: Write small projects to get published on a regular basis. Newspapers, community magazines, newsletters, and online publications are great. No pay or low pay is fine. It’s important to see your name in print and work with editors through the process of deadlines, assignments, and word counts on a regular basis. Prospective publishers you plan to target include:
Goal #3: Work on a bigger project geared for publication. This is a SPECIFIC process and involves you first finding ONE particular publisher you want to write for. Dig deep in your writer’s market guide to narrow down your search. Then research that publisher and write an original manuscript or query to fit into their product line. Your target publisher is:
3. Determine the minimum and maximum amount of time you plan to devote to each goal each week or month in the year ahead. If you haven’t been writing at all, it’s perfectly fine to schedule in a minimum of one hour writing each week. To start building a successful career, however, plan to devote about a fourth of your time each week or month to Goal #1, a fourth of your time to Goal #2, and half of your time to Goal #3. This balance will help you progress forward step by step. If you already have solid writing time scheduled in each week, keep this same balance of time for these three goals to keep your writing passion alive, be regularly encouraged by seeing your name in print, and work steadily towards your goal of having a successful writing career.
4. Based on the exercises you just completed, write down your short-term and long-term goals:

Goal Planning Guide
1 Week Goal
Goal #1:
Goal #2:
Goal #3:
Reward if you meet your goals:

1 Month Goal
Goal #1:
Goal #2:
Goal #3:
Reward if you meet your goals:

3 Month Goal
Goal #1:
Goal #2:
Goal #3:
Reward if you meet your goals:

1 Year Goal
Goal #1:
Goal #2:
Goal #3:
Reward if you meet your goals:

5 Year Goal
Goal #1:
Goal #2:
Goal #3:
Reward if you meet your goals:

If you’d like to share personal strategies and goals you’re planning on incorporating in the year ahead to take your writing to the next level, I’d love to hear from you!

Ask the Author:
Attention teachers, home-schoolers, families, kids and everyone who loves to read! If there is a question you'd like to ask about my newest book or my life as an author, post your question as a comment on my blog. I will be selecting questions to answer on my blog throughout the upcoming Virtual Book Tour celebrating the release of my newest book, D IS FOR DRINKING GOURD: AN AFRICAN AMERICAN ALPHABET. Mark your calendars to join in the fun! The tour starts February 1, 2008.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Featured Book!

Featured book:
Charles Drew: Pioneer in Medicine
By Laura Purdie Salas
Capstone Press, 2006

Charles Drew was an African American physician who became famous for his research in blood transfusions. He developed new and improved methods of storing blood, applying his findings to develop blood banks in Britain and America during World War II. This informative and fact-filled book is part of the Fact Finders series for children--a great addition to your classroom or library!

Meet Author Laura Purdie Salas
Web site:

Bio: Laura Purdie Salas is the author of more than 40 books for children. Most of all, she loves to write poetry. Funny, serious, rhyming, free verse…she loves it all. Her first trade picture book poetry collection, STAMPEDE! POEMS TO CELEBRATE THE WILD SIDE OF SCHOOL, will be published by Clarion Books. She has 10 other poetry collections coming out from Capstone Press in 2008, along with a Write Your Own Poetry book coming out from Compass Point. Laura writes nonfiction on a variety of topics and for a wide range of ages. She is teaching an online class on nonfiction writing for the educational market in January 2008 (it's full, but may be offered again in the future) and plans to teach online story and poetry courses, as well.

In the past, Laura has worked as an 8th-grade teacher and an instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature. She enjoys speaking to adults, kids, and teachers about all kinds of writing.

Most of the time, she’s either reading or writing. If she’s not, she’s probably playing board games or karaoke with her two daughters, Maddie and Annabelle, or losing a game of racquetball to her husband, Randy. Laura's a Florida native who hates hot weather. She and her family live in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Featured book:
Charles Drew: Pioneer in Medicine
Q: Describe a highlight for you personally while you were writing this book.
A: I'm thinking of two things offhand. (Is that cheating?)

One highlight was learning about how bloodmobiles came to be. I've donated blood in them, but I never knew anything about their background. For me, they were just a matter of convenience. Learning about their development during WWII and how crucial they were to saving lives was fascinating.

A second highlight had to do with proving a story wrong. In my research, I found several sources that repeated a story that Drew died because, after his car accident, white doctors refused to treat him when he needed a blood transfusion. That was painful to think, and I
was relieved when further research from more reputable sources showed that Drew did indeed receive good care and a blood transfusion. But his blood loss was too severe.

That made me think about how the ironic and buzz-worthy stories are the ones to be repeated. Today, those stories are the ones that would go viral on YouTube (and I'm guilty of being a fan of ironic and twisted stories, too--as long as they're true). But the really important stories, the ones of people acting with dignity and compassion, don't often get spread around. We (and I) need to be sure to both seek those stories out and also share them with other people.

Q: Describe part of the research process it took to write this.
A: I had never even heard of Charles Drew when I got this assignment. I did a lot of my research through credible adult biographies of him as well as research through PBS' website feature on blood. I ended up doing lots of other side research on things like the Red Cross, Howard University, and the Blood for Britain program. Those side forays were mostly to confirm facts or find more details. But because this is a short book (main text is about 1,500 words) written on a tight deadline, I pulled most of the main facts from a couple of biographies of him.

Q: As a child, what were your favorite books to read?
A: Oh my gosh. I have the world's worst memory. I read everything! Books
were the world I lived in. My website has a couple of pix of me reading as a kid. I hardly have any childhood pix of me, and several are of me reading!

Here are just a few:
I loved all the Agatha Christie books (Children could be killers? What an idea! I loved her Marple books more than her Poirot ones)
Flowers for Algernon (which my mom tried to hide from me)
Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time (now I love virtually all of her books, but I didn't know most of them as a kid)
Horror stories by Edgar Allan Poe
Works by Nathaniel Hawthorne
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriott (and all the sequels)
The Hobbit (and the first couple of books of Lord of the Rings)
Little House books
Judy Blume books
I remember I repeatedly read Sunshine (by Norma Klein), a fairly maudlin book of a young mom dying of cancer.
I loved a series of books for young kids about a pair of twins, brother and sister, who lived in all different times and places...caveman times, ancient Egypt, etc. I'd love to find out what those were and see how they hold up to time!

I read constantly, and I can't remember 99.9% of what I read. But every book I read helped form me.

Q. Share one tip you would like to give to a children’s author of nonfiction books.
A: It's great to write about subjects you're passionate about. Do it if you can! But if you can't, if you write on assignment, as I usually do, be open. I have discovered some things I'm passionate about that I never would have known about if I hadn't been contracted to write about them.

Monday, January 21, 2008

African American History: Did You Know...?

During the Civil Rights Movement, many people decided to join together to protest segregation. One group that formed was called the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). This group was run by students and was formed to organize sit-ins as nonviolent ways to bring about integration in such places as restaurants, bathrooms, parks, and schools.

One of the most memorable events during the Civil Rights Movement was when little children in Birmingham, Alabama, joined together to try to help bring integration to their city. Thousands of elementary and high school children participated in the events that became known as the Children's Crusade.

DID YOU KNOW that in the spring of 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. arrived in Birmingham, Alabama, where he set up daily workshops to teach people how to use nonviolence. Every night large meetings were held at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Dr. King and other leaders spoke at these church meetings. Prayers were said and freedom songs were sung.

The Children's Crusade began on May 2 when suddenly, hundreds of children began marching out of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Over the next couple of days, thousands of school children marched out of the church and tried to walk downtown where they were not allowed to go. Police arrested hundreds of little children by loading them onto school buses and taking them to jail. When the jail got full, the children were arrested and bused to the local fairground.

Eventually, several committees met to discuss changes in Birmingham. It was agreed that Birmingham would begin to integrate different parts of the city over a period of 90 days. The children were released from jail, some of them having stayed there at least seven days.

That same year, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's most famous speech was given during the March on Washington. In this "I Have a Dream" speech, he shared his dream of black boys and girls joining hands with white boys and girls as brother and sisters in America.

On this holiday today, and in the year ahead, may we each make it our goal to help Dr. King's dream become a reality in our own neighborhood as well as in our nation and in our world.
-excerpted from A Kid's Guide to African American History

Ask the Author:
Attention teachers, home-schoolers, families, kids and everyone who loves to read! If there is a question you'd like to ask about my newest book or my life as an author, post your question as a comment on my blog. I will be selecting questions to answer on my blog throughout the upcoming Virtual Book Tour celebrating the release of my newest book, D IS FOR DRINKING GOURD: AN AFRICAN AMERICAN ALPHABET. Mark your calendars to join in the fun! The tour starts February 1, 2008.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Friday, January 18, 2008

Welcome to My World!

Yesterday after I'd been writing awhile, I went into the kitchen to stretch my legs and tackle a sink of dirty dishes. Our two-year-old cat, Humphrey, jumped up on the sink to see what I was doing, slipped, and fell into the sudsy water! After I pulled him out, then spent the next 15 minutes chasing him around with the dishtowel to try to tackle him and dry him off, I had to laugh. Humphrey's a big part of my writing day!

When I sit in my recliner in the family room to read through books for ideas, Humphrey jumps on the nearby couch to take a nap. Our dog, Lucy, likes to sleep on the couch on her little afghan I crocheted for her. So when Humphrey consistently tried to make Lucy move off her afghan so he could sleep there, I realized I needed to make Humphrey his own blanket, too. So now when I'm sitting in the recliner looking for ideas as I was yesterday gathering activity ideas for the fourth grade math activity book my husband and I are writing, Humphrey can join Lucy on the couch for a nap and enjoy a snooze on his own "blankie."

When I move to sit on the living room loveseat to write, as I often do when I'm writing text for a picture book, Humphrey comes in and jumps on the nearby couch. He loves to stretch out on his back! It was here that I spent most of my time writing the poetry sections for each letter of the alphabet for my newest picture book, D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet.

And when I take a break from writing to have lunch, Humphrey runs in to check out the refrigerator when I open it. He's always hoping it's tunafish time!

I sit down to eat--and guess who is up on the table! Since I'm alone many hours of the day (that's the life of a writer!) Humphrey keeps me company while I eat--even when he gets tired of watching me eat and falls asleep!

And of course, when I sit down at my computer to type and write, Humphrey's favorite spot is to perch above me on top of my desk. Unfortunately, he uses my printer as his launching pad to jump up there, and at 21 pounds, I'm not sure how much more launching my printer can take!

And then there's always those moments like when I received the ORIGINAL pencil sketches from my publisher of E.B. Lewis's art for D is for Drinking Gourd. I was sworn into taking the utmost care of the pages until I could review them and return them the next day. I was busy taking photos to help me remember the art as I worked on revisions--when suddenly Humphrey decided to help. Horrified, I realized he was also in the viewfinder of my camera as he had jumped up on the pages to see what I was doing at THIS stage of my writing day. I quickly grabbed him and locked him behind the bedroom door for the rest of the photoshoot--but not until I got this picture of my adorable writing buddy.

Ask the Author:
Attention teachers, home-schoolers, families, kids and everyone who loves to read! If there is a question you'd like to ask about my newest book or my life as an author, post your question as a comment on my blog. I will be selecting questions to answer on my blog throughout the upcoming Virtual Book Tour celebrating the release of my newest book, D IS FOR DRINKING GOURD: AN AFRICAN AMERICAN ALPHABET. Mark your calendars to join in the fun! The tour starts February 1, 2008.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Editor Interview: Sharon Coatney

Meet Editor Sharon Coatney!
Acquisitions Editor
School Library Media
Libraries Unlimited

Featured Publisher: Libraries Unlimited/Teacher Ideas Press
Web site:

Professional: After being a teacher and school librarian for 30 years at all grade levels in Kansas, I retired six years ago. I started my new career as acquisitions editor for Libraries Unlimited. I have worn many hats over the years including positions as President of the American Association of School Librarians; President of the Kansas Association of School Librarians; Chair Standards Writing Committee for Library Media, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Councilor at Large—the American Library Association.

Personal: My husband, Jeff, and I have been married for 41 years. A retired army officer, Jeff is the owner of Phoenix Industries and the New Linwood Café—two small businesses in our little town. In December, we hosted an arts focus month at our café, with a special visit by author Jane Kurtz. We live in rural Kansas, not too far from Kansas City. Our children are grown. Mark is Special Projects Editor for Newsweek, based in New York, and Rachel is a teacher of the gifted and talented for the Shawnee Mission School District in Kansas City. We have one grandson, three-year-old Will, who is the joy of our life.

Interview Questions:
Q: What were some of the most influential books you read as a child?
A: When I was a child, I read the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries as well as just about anything else I could get my hands on in the school library. To this day, I love to read mysteries. I loved the Little Golden Books as a small child and vividly remember when the author of The Little Squeegie Bug came to my school in kindergarden. His name was Bill Martin, Jr and that was his very first book!

Q: How do you balance your career and your family?
A: My family is grown so my husband and I and Wonder Dog, who thinks he is really our little boy, get along fine here together. My job is a virtual one; I work entirely at home. I do travel 10-12 times a year to visit with authors, speak, and attend conferences. Many times, my husband will travel with me (particularly if it is an interesting place to go). Two years ago we went to Prague where I spoke at the conference for the librarians teaching at the American schools in Europe. This year we had a lovely and leisurely time driving back through the mountains in October after I had attended the AASL conference in Reno.

Q: Do you also enjoy writing your own manuscripts in the midst of editing everyone else’s?
A: Like every other children's book lover, I am trying to find a publisher for a picture book that I have written! It is a family story.

Q: What types of topics/proposals/manuscripts would be on your editor’s wish list to receive?
A: We are a publisher of professional books for teachers and librarians. We are looking for helpful, practical books on using technology in the classroom, reading, and all other curriculum areas. I am particularly interested in receiving anything that addresses the collaborative teaching of the curriculum by teachers and school librarians.

Q: Share one tip you’d like to give about landing a contract with your publishing house.
A: Please do not send proposals to us that you have submitted simultaneously to other publishers.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Book in A Month Club!

You're invited to join the BOOK IN A MONTH CLUB! Each year in March one of my critique groups participates in this club as we try to write an entire book in just one month. It's's zany...and it's fun! To find out more information and tips about how it works, you can visit my website and click on WRITERZONE, which has a link to the BOOK IN A MONTH CLUB.

This year since I already have a couple of long-term book manuscripts under contract, I'm planning to write a new picture book manuscript. Throughout the month of March, I'm hoping to post my progress here on the blog to help show you more about the world of writing a picture book from start to finish.

So hop on board and join the fun! Better yet--get your entire critique group to agree to meet the challenge of trying to write the first draft of an entire book manuscript--in just one month!

If you decide to join the club, it's important to start now to gather your ideas, plan out a working calendar of goals you want to accomplish each day, and prepare to start writing. Since I'm planning on writing a picture book that is targeted specifically toward getting published, the first step I took was to decide which publisher I want to target: Sylvan Dell. I love their science-oriented cute fiction picture books. Throughout this month, I plan to read as many of their books as I can so I can really familiarize myself with their product line. I'm going to borrow as many books from the library as I can find and purchase key titles I like best at low prices from used bookstores listed on I'm hoping to type out several of those books word for word to get a better "feel" for the story and word use and pace and weight of text on each page.

It's important to choose your topic, too. Since I knew THE BOOK IN A MONTH CLUB was approaching in March, I've been searching for a brand new topic that would fit into Sylvan Dell's product line. This last month, I finally got my idea: a story about nocturnal and diurnal animals that would end up being a bedtime story. The science is there and also the potential market of a bedtime story increases the possibility of sales.

If you decide to join the club, let me know! We can encourage each other along the way!

Ask the Author:
Attention teachers, home-schoolers, families, kids and everyone who loves to read! If there is a question you'd like to ask about my newest book or my life as an author, post your question as a comment on my blog. I will be selecting questions to answer on my blog throughout the upcoming Virtual Book Tour celebrating the release of my newest book, D IS FOR DRINKING GOURD: AN AFRICAN AMERICAN ALPHABET. Mark your calendars to join in the fun! The tour starts February 1, 2008.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

African American History: Did You Know...?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most important leaders in the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s. He encouraged people to use nonviolence to bring changes to everyday life for African Americans. He organized countless boycotts, marches, and peaceful demonstrations. His speeches inspired hundreds of thousands of people to join together to work toward equal rights for everyone living in America.

Did you know that today, January 15, is Dr. King's actual birthday? Our nation will observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a federal holiday next Monday.

To remember this great man and the important work he accomplished, you can make a hand fan similar to the one many marchers and protesters used during the long, hot summer days of the Civil Rights Movement. Not only did these provide relief from the hot sun, but they were also a form of advertisement. They were printed with encouraging words, information about an upcoming event, or pictures of such civil rights leaders as Dr. King.

Use the illustration of the fan provided here, poster board, markers, a jumbo craft stick, glue, scissors, and a stapler for this project. Print out the picture and resize it if necessary until it is about 6-inches square. Glue it to a piece of poster board. Staple the craft stick to the back of the poster board to form the handle of the fan. Wave the fan gently back and forth in front of your face. Imagine how good the refreshing breeze felt across the faces of the people who were marching along a road during the Civil Rights Movement on a hot, sunny day.
-from A KID'S GUIDE TO AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY (Second Edition, Chicago Review Press, 2007)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Welcome to My World!

For Christmas, my husband and I gave tickets to our two adult sons as a gift to go see Bill Cosby. (We bought 4 tickets so we could all go as a family.) We had learned that he would be appearing locally.

Last night was the exciting event! The four of us went to dinner at the Macaroni Grill near the performance--it was crowded with other excited people who were going to the show, too. And then on to the show!

What a fun evening it was. All during the years our boys were growing up, we'd listen to recordings of Bill Cosby and laugh and laugh. Truly, he brought the gift of laughter into our home during the teenage years, and it was a gift that brought our family closer together. Last night had the same magical effect as the four of us laughed along with a sold-out crowd, listening in person to a master storyteller.

Bill Cosby has a gift with words. He is able to weave stories about the most common, ordinary things and make us laugh at ourselves. Going to the dentist (one of his classic routines!), not wanting to change the flavor of his toothpaste, talking with a buddy on the phone, and getting in trouble while refusing to give his granddaughter a cookie for breakfast--all made the entire audience sit back with a smile on our face and laugh at the silly situations life often affords.

As our one son admitted when we left, our face muscles hurt from so much grinning from ear to ear by the time the evening was over. But our hearts were warmed and our souls were uplifted and we felt inspired to stay connected with our families once again--and that's what the magic of storytelling is all about.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Featured Book!

Riding to Washington
by Gwenyth Swain
Illustrated by David Geister

Janie is not exactly sure why her daddy is riding a bus from Indianapolis to Washington, D.C. She knows why she has to go--to stay out of her mother's way, especially with the twins now teething. But Daddy wants to hear a man named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak and, to keep out of trouble, Janie is sent along. Riding the bus with them is a mishmash of people, black and white, young and old. They seem very different from Janie.

As the bus travels across cities and farm fields to its historic destination, Janie sees firsthand the injustices that many others are made to endure. She begins to realize that she's not so different from the other riders and that, as young as she is, her actions can affect change.

Though fiction, Riding to Washington is a very personal story for Gwenyth Swain as both her father and grandfather rode to Washington, D.C. to participate in the 1963 Civil Rights march on the nation's capital. Ms. Swain's other books include Chig and the Second Spread and I Wonder As I Wander. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Meet Author Gwenyth Swain!
Web site:
Blog: The gwenyth swain Blog

I'm the youngest of five children--all girls! I grew up in the hills of southern Indiana on Wallow Hollow Road. My mother was a homemaker and my father built houses for a living. My grandfather, a retired Methodist minister, and my grandmother had a little house on a hilltop just a short walk from my home.

Maybe we were a bit isolated (the nearest town, and the biggest in the county, had only 700 residents!), but we were aware of the larger world. I was too young in 1963 to remember the March on Washington-- the subject of my most recent book, RIDING TO WASHINGTON--but I do recall my parents discussing Civil Rights.

Featured book: Riding to Washington
Q: What inspired you the most to write this book?
A: My father, Hank Swain, used to tell me stories when I was young about his trip to Washington, D.C., in August 1963. I was only two in 1963, so I don't remember what happened, but my father got interested in a Civil Rights event called the March on Washington. He talked about it to my grandfather, and soon they both wanted to go. My family's white, but we've always been interested in Civil Rights--and social justice. So, it wasn't out of character for my father and grandfather to go to the March. They drove up to Indianapolis, the nearest big city, and got on a bus that would take them to D.C. Everything went well until they stopped for dinner. They had to stop several times until they found a restaurant that would serve a "mixed" crowd of blacks and whites. I know my father must have told me a lot about the March itself, but the part that really stuck with me was the story of the journey there. I'd never faced discrimination in my young life: I just couldn't figure out why restaurants wouldn't serve my father and grandfather and the others on that bus. As an adult, what also inspired me to write RIDING TO WASHINGTON is the belief that ordinary people can make history. After learning about the March on Washington and the journeys people took to get there, I became convinced that everyone who was in that March made history, even before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., rose up on the podium and gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

Q: Describe part of the research process it took to write this manuscript.
A: Most of my research involved talking with my parents. I talked to both of them at length. I particularly wanted to know how my mother felt about being left at home with me and my four older sisters--especially since she's just as interested in social justice as my father is. I also looked at photographs of the March, listened to radio interviews with other people who attended the March, and re-read my father's brief memoir about it, "A March of Hope." It's from a small magazine called OUR BROWN COUNTY, and you can find it on the web at Our Brown County

Q: Describe your typical writing schedule.
A:I fit in writing whenever I can. I've got two children, ages 9 and 6, and a part-time job as a middle-school librarian. So writing time is always hard to find. But when I've got a minute, I either grab a notebook or my laptop and start working. Right now, I'm revising a time travel novel that takes place on Ellis Island, finishing up an article on time travel books for BOOK LINKS magazine, waiting for editorial comments on an online article about traveling to Quebec City, Canada, and trying to read some of the books that are getting Newbery "buzz." Sometimes it seems like too much for one person, but writing's the best job there is.

Q. Share one tip you would like to give about writing a picture book based on a personal experience.
A: Don't be afraid to change the real story and make it your own. For example, I was too young to have gone to the March on Washington, but I always wanted to go, once I was old enough to hear my father's stories. The most fun I had in writing RIDING TO WASHINGTON was putting the girl Janie (who's very much like me) into the story and letting her go to the March in my place. She's a lot more spunky that I am, so that made the story fun, too. After all, doesn't everybody love a troublemaker? I loved creating a character who was enough of a troublemaker to figure out that some trouble (like stepping in and convincing the boy at the gas station to hand over the bathroom key) is worth making.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Picture Book Pointers

If you want to learn more about how to write a picture book, here are several steps you can take this month towards your goal:

Step 1:
Read a book about how to write picture books.

Step 2:
Tuck a pen and notepad or mini journal in your pocket. Go to your local bookstore, sit in the children's area, if they have one. Go ahead and sit down on the carpet with all the other kids who are there, if that's how it's set up. Read at least five brand new picture books. Jot down notes or thought as you read.

Step 3:
Go to your local library and check out at least 20 picture books to read over the next few weeks. During this time, read each one ALOUD at least once. Pick your favorite and type it out, word for word.

Step 4:
Start a picture book notebook. A small 3-ring binder is nice because you can add pages as you go. Write down kid-friendly words you come across like PIZZAZZ and YEE-HAW! Make a list of favorite and fun names you might like to use in your stories. Write down titles of favorite picture books and names of favorite picture book authors. Write mini-book reviews about the strengths and weaknesses of various picture books you read. Use it as a place to keep notes that will help you grow as a writer of picture books.

Step 5:
Choose two picture book projects to work on at the same time. One will be a picture book that you just want to write. The second one will be a picture book that you write specifically for publication. The process will be different for each one. For the first one, you might already have it in the works or have completed the first draft. Go ahead and pick it up and plan to work on it more until it is polished. For the second book, it should be a manuscript you haven't yet started. First find a publisher of picture books you like. Then find a series of picture books they do. Then find a favorite title in that series that's already published. Then think of several brand new topics you could write about that they haven't published yet in that series. Finally, choose one of those topics. Then write your new manuscript to fit exactly into that series. That's how to write a manuscript specifically to get published.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

African American History: Did You Know...?

Here's a picture from my newest book, D IS FOR DRINKING GOURD: AN AFRICAN AMERICAN ALPHABET. This page is from "R is for African Roots and the glories that Africa once knew." Isn't it beautiful how illustrator E.B. Lewis interpreted this topic? Africa has a magnificant past of ancient empires, black pharaohs in Egypt, and cities such as Timbuktu that flourished as centers of culture, scholarship, and wealth.

Recently I've been researching the ancient walled cities of northern Nigeria for a potential magazine article. Did you know that this area was known as Hausaland because of the Hausa-speaking people who settled there? Strong walled city-states began to be developed around 1000 A.D that resembled medieval fiefs in Europe. Important trading centers such as the city of Kano connected Africa with the world as caravans arrived from all points of the compass including from the North. Those brave traders dared to cross the dangerous Sahara desert in their quest to take part in Africa's wealth, learning, and culture.

I looked at Kano on Google Earth and was delighted to see portions of its ancient city wall that still exist! The "Old City" is still famous for its bustling market, famous dye pits, and historic landmarks such as the Emir's Palace.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Picture Book Pointers

Writing a picture book is very similar to making a batch of gingerbread cookies. First I gather all the ingredients. Then I follow the tried-and-true recipe in my cookbook and mix all the different ingredients in a bowl. Then I manipulate the dough on a cutting board, one piece at a time. I roll it out flat with a rolling pin. Next comes the fun of cutting it into shape. I have a set of 4 gingerbread cookie cutters--one man, one woman, one boy, and one girl. It's fun to choose which designs to cut from the dough and place on the cookie sheet. Then it's time to decorate and into the oven they go. I have to be careful at this stage, though! They burn so quickly, I must really keep on eye on them to make sure all my efforts don't go to ruin. Finally, they're done and ready for everyone to enjoy.

Have you written a picture book? Congratulations! You actually did it! You sat down and poured out your story onto the written page from start to finish. Not many people actually do that. I can't say enough how wonderful an accomplishment that is.

It's important to understand, however, that this is only the first step of the process it takes to write a picture book. It's like the step of gathering all the ingredients when making gingerbread cookies. Now it's time to roll up your sleeves and go through the entire process it takes to produce a high-quality picture book.

Contrary to what most people think, writing a successful picture book is one of the most difficult genre to work in. Knowing this, when I get a new idea for a picture book, I usually block out three months to work on it. Mentally, this helps me pace myself through all the different stages a picture book needs to take to polish it and hone it on its way to perfection. This gives me the time I need so that I don't just rush through and produce a weak manuscript that has slim chances of reaching publication.

Sometimes I just sit down and write out the story that's floating around in my head, eager to come out. Other times, I spend time jotting down the key ingredients I want to include. Then I pull out my favorite "how-to" books on picture book writing. Eve Heidi Bine-Stock's three volumes top my list:

How to Write a Children's Picture Book--Volume I: Structure
How to Write a Children's Picture Book--Volume II: Word, Sentence, Scene, Story
How to Write a Children's Picture Book--Volume III: Figures of Speech

I structure and restructure the plot of my story from the ground up (even if I've already written it down) and use Eve's first book as a guide. I read lots of other CURRENT picture books at the library and the bookstore. I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite my picture book, cutting out important pieces to keep and trimming away the excess. I go through my self-editing check-lists. I take it to critique groups and polish it according to their feedback. Sometimes I make a sample book dummy, just for my own reference, to make sure each page will carry its own weight. I DISSECT my original manuscript and rework it and rework it until it improves its quality. My goal is to make it ready to share with the world.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Virtual Book Tour

I'm continuing to work a little bit each day to organize my upcoming Virtual Book Tour that starts on February 1, 2008. I'm delighted at how eager everyone is to get involved! Here are more tips on setting up your own:

Step One: See post on December 8, 2007.
Step Two: See post on December 12, 2007.
Step Three: See post on December 20, 2007.

Step Four:
Start scheduling "stops" on your Virtual Book Tour. First, consider which target audiences would be interested in your book. Since my book D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet is a picture book about African American history, my Viritual Book Tour might interest the following target audiences:

readers interested in African American history
home-schooling families
childrens' writers
writers of nonfiction for children

Secondly, make connections with these specific target audiences. I joined a listserve of nonfiction writers for kids and connected with other writers who signed up to be a stop on my tour by posting my author's interview or book review on their blog. I explored the Internet and connected with various websites for writers and arranged live Internet author interviews, advertisements about my Virtual Book Tour in e-zines, and book reviews. My publicist helped connect me with bookstores, online booksellers, and teachers who agreed to send me questions from their students to answer in my interviews. It's all free and I make it my goal to keep everything as simple as possible to stay within my basic working knowledge of computer technology.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Do You Want to be a Writer?

One of the best gifts you can give yourself if you want to be a writer is to join a critique group. A critique groups helps keep you accountable to work on a manuscript on a regular basis. Plus, it encourages your writer's soul. If you're not yet part of a critique group, make it a New Year's goal!

If you live too far away from other writers, there are several ways to start your own. When I first moved to my new home and left my critique group far behind, I put an ad in my local paper inviting anyone interested in writing to join me for a critique group at the public library. A dozen or so people from the community responded, and we had a wonderful group even though nobody was yet a published writer. You can also opt to join an online critique group. Yes, it's not as personal, but when there are no critique groups meeting in your area, you can connect to writers even if they live halfway around the world!