Exciting SCBWI Announcement for 2019!

I’m so excited to announce that starting January 15, 2019, I am the SCBWI Regional Advisor of Pennsylvania: West! It’s a true honor and I’m really eager to build a new leadership team and to work to support the creative members of our region.

We have some great events planned for 2019 already and we’re in the process of planning more.

Check out our events calendar here.

What are your favorite events to attend as a writer or illustrator?

One of my big goals is to reach out to new communities and neighborhoods. I’m hoping we engage new writers and illustrators and learn from the incredible people in Western Pennsylvania. I really believe that by increasing the diversity of our knowledge and experiences we can do our best work as individuals and an organization.

I’m a huge supporter of We Need Diverse Books and hope to guide our region into embracing diversity fully.


SCBWI is a wonderful organization for writers and illustrators.

SCBWI is great for new members. There is so much to learn about the publishing industry. Many new creatives don’t even know what questions to ask. That’s where SCBWI mentors and critique groups and workshops and conferences help. Even the online forums are helpful for figuring out how to write a query…or understanding what a query is!

But SCBWI is also useful for published writers. PAL members, or “Published And Listed” members, still need SCBWI. Connecting with other writers and illustrators helps me stay on top of changes in the industry and learn about new technology that can impact how and what we create. It’s no longer just about writing a good story, it’s about writing a great story that fits the publisher’s need at that exact moment, and one that fits with the market. There are so many options and we need help exploring them. We can now create graphic novels, ebooks, info-tainment non-fiction, and more, that being a part of SCBWI helps published writers and illustrators stay informed even as we hone our craft.

Both new and experienced writers benefit from SCBWI critique groups. Critique groups are an essential part of my writing routine. I have found an incredible support network from my critique groups. I’ve learned so much from my group. And my writing has improved. I’m not sure which benefit is more valuable.

If you’ve ever wanted to create for children, I invite you to join your local SCBWI chapter. Meet professionals and newbies, meet writers and illustrators, immerse yourself in the field and learn all you can. I promise you’ll meet amazing people. You will be inspired, and I know you will find some truly wonderful books that are great for any age!


Kids Writing Club in 2019

When I was in seventh grade, I got permission from my teacher to produce a literary magazine at my school. Me and several other kids typed up stories and poems and then I ran off copies on a mimeograph machine, the kind with the purple ink that people loved to smell.

This year, I’m revisiting my childhood and starting a kids writing club at our elementary school. Thankfully I have a partner, our school librarian. She’s awesome and loves supporting reading and writing activities. We’re going to meet once a week and write, revise, and share stories. At the end of the club, we’ll have a book of stories. The kids don’t know it yet, but a local bookstore has even offered to host a book signing for them.

I’m pretty excited and I hope the kids who sign up are excited, too.

But before the club starts, I’m looking for suggestions on things that would be great to do in the club and things that would be awful.

So, did you belong to a kids writing club or creative writing club when you were a kid?

Do you wish you did?

What would advice would you give me?

Get Story Ideas by Brainstorming

I get story ideas in wonderful places. Listening to people talk, watching the news, listening to songs.

Another way I get story ideas is from other writers. I have a lot of fun working as a writing coach. I work with a young man who wants to write some scary, scary stories. He loves Stephen King and Five Nights at Freddy’s and all things gory. He’s working on a story for a program and he’ll apply in the fall. I think he has a shot, his ideas are really good.

I met my coachee this weekend and he’s working on a new story. The beginning of the story is a classic. Teens have to housesit and mansion and…

When he shared this idea with me, and I read his very exciting beginning paragraph, I knew this could be good. But I wanted to make sure he didn’t write the same old story. I mean, this is the premise of Scream. And Jumanji. And Cat in the Hat.

“So what makes your story one that only you can tell?” I asked him.

This made him think. Then to help him along with some unique ideas, we took turns brainstorming. I don’t want to share his MOST AMAZING idea here because it’s so good I hope you get it at a bookstore and maybe see it in the movies some day.

This kind of brainstorming is a great way to get story ideas.

I thought it would be fun to practice this story brainstorming here on the blog.

Teens have to house sit a mansion and…

Me: discover it’s the landing spot for an alien invasion.

Ceil Kessler: …trigger a switch by accident, revealing the hidden laboratory of a mad/evil scientist.

Victorria Johnson Wytcherley: Find that the house is sentient and provides for those who promise to upkeep it

Kit Fox: They say no, because they are volunteering to feed homeless teens so the mansion owner surprises them by taking in all the homeless teens as housesitters and they have a big party and eat all the food and the owner doesn’t go to Andorra, which means she’s not skiing when the avalanche happens so being generous literally saves her life and everyone learns a valuable lesson.

Diane Matway: Find the mansion has contained with it a certain magic to create peace and safety again. Three silver bells hold the answers…

So how would your story end?

Writing Puns is Fun

I love writing puns and I love writing with puns. Over Thanksgiving, I brought a new game to play with my family called Punderdome. I found this game at Riverstone Books, my favorite local bookstore. I’m very lucky that the family was willing to give it a try, even my 13 year old son got into it! The game is simple. In round 1, everyone tries to guess the answer to a pun. I was not too shabby at that part. For example, what’s the most disgusting store to shop at? A grocery store!

In round 2, the judge deals out 2 cards with categories and the players try to make a pun combining the two.

For example, one of my answers for “Star Wars” and “Winning” was “Yoda Man!” Too bad I didn’t come up with that answer until after the game.

I use a lot of puns in my writing. I used puns in my story “The Pepper Caper,” published in Highlights for Children (September 2017). I have several drafts of manuscripts that incorporate lots of puns.

There’s always thyme for some puns.

People say puns are lowest form of humor, and one reason is because word play is one of the first kinds of humor that children can understand. But that’s irritating to me, because it implies that children’s level of comprehension is low. My 13 year old made some excellent puns. And in my opinion the best puns require knowing A LOT of words AND their meanings.

Games like Punderdome are a great way to practice your humor writing skills. I also love Rory’s Story Cubes and Word Dominos.

Do you like writing puns? What are your favorite puns?

What other games do you like to play that help you be a better writer?

Tell a Story in One Sentence

If you’re writing a story, there are lots of things you need to know how to do.

You need to know how to create interesting characters.

You need to know how to write dialogue.

You need to know how to build tension.

You need to know how to write a good ending.

Once you’ve got all those things and a finished story, you can celebrate. Then you need to be able to figure out how to tell your story in one sentence.

If you can’t tell your story in one sentence, you might not know your story. It’s also possible you might not HAVE a story.

If you have any plans to send your story to a magazine, agent, or publisher, you should be able to share it in one sentence.

I’ll be brave and share my one sentence summary:

“Sixth grader Whitney decides to run a marathon to win a bet and prove she’s not Quit-ney.”

So – what’s your story in a sentence?


How to Be a Better Writer

I’m always learning how to be a better writer. It never stops. I am always reading different blog posts and listening to different podcasts. Also, I register for webinars from SCBWI. I attend events at the Highlights Foundation, and I always attend the annual SCBWI fall conference here in Pittsburgh.

I’ve learned some really interesting and helpful things lately that I know will help me be a better writer.

Things That Help Me Be a Better Writer

  • Libraries. Did you know the Library of Congress website offers free photos for your use? They are available online in the “Free to Use and Reuse” section on the homepage of the website. These photos can help with information, but they can also offer inspiration. I was so excited to discover this awesome feature. I loved clicking through a collection of Irish heritage photos.
be a better writer

A good reminder!


  • Friends. I’m trying to research some information on Rosalie Edge, and her papers are in New York and Denver. I wasn’t sure what to do – it’s pricy to travel there. So I posted online and asked writing friends who suggested I ask reference librarians for help.
  • Libraries again. Reference librarians are awesome and really helpful.  I want to look at primary source materials, but I can’t pay for a plane ticket to Denver. So I emailed a librarian at the library, and the librarian directed me to the reference department, who showed me the online index of her papers. I’m now waiting to see how much it would cost for the folders I’m interested in to be photocopied. Whatever the cost, I’m sure it’s less than a plane ticket!
  • Friends again. I’m back coaching a young person who wants to be a writer. This young person has some great ideas, but like we all do, struggles with getting the ideas written down in a great way. I want to help my young writer to do his best but I don’t want to change his language or his story. I asked my amazing writer friend Wende Dikec for help. She does a lot of coaching and teaching for young writers and she suggested I focus on guiding, not editing. I kept that in mind for my last coaching session and it felt so great. I felt like I was really doing the right thing as a coach. I’m so grateful!


Things I’m Writing

I’ve had a good end of summer and beginning of fall for my writing projects.

  • At the end of the summer, I turned in eleven short documents that were examples of different text structures. These documents are going to be used by a teacher to help students identify types of text, like cause and effect or problem and solution.
  • I found out I sold a craft and a fiction story to Highlights for Children.
  • Then, I received an offer to write a non-fiction book for an educational publisher.
  • I also started working on my young adult novel. I am excited about the story, but I realized I need to make a story map.

What are you working on this fall and winter?


Real Books Better Than E-books

books reading

Books in Waiting

Sometimes I think real books are better than e-books.

I’m not anti-e-book, because I love to read and e-books make it so easy to read. I love using my library’s app to find an e-book, check it out, and start reading. It saves me the time and gas of driving to my library! I’m not sure the environmental impact of making e-books, but I wonder if it’s offset by reduced driving, printing, shipping, etc.

But I do love a real book. And there are some very special things about real books that can never, and will never be replaced.

I started thinking about this when my youngest son dragged a giant book he loves off the shelf called “Our Fifty States.” On the inside page was an address label for my grandfather, who we called Gonky.

“This was Gonky’s book!” my youngest exclaimed. This was a thrilling thing as my youngest has always felt a special connection to my grandfather. Finding out that a book my youngest loves belonged to his great-grandfather is a very special surprise that could never happen with an e-book.

Eight Reasons to Love Real Books

Here are things that are so great about real books that make then better than e-books.

  1. Making new friends. This is accomplished by spying and being nosey. At soccer practice, I spied a mom reading a giant book that I was reading. I struck up a conversation, confident that I could find something in common with this woman. We are real friends now, and I am so grateful to that real book.
  2. Inspiring my kids. My kids are also nosey and love reading the titles of real books I’m reading. They ask what it’s about, is it good, do I wish I had written it, should they read it, etc. Then they tell me what they are reading. When they see me with my phone, they think I’m playing a game.
  3. Bookmarks. Real books need bookmarks. My kids make me bookmarks. If I only read e-books, my kids wouldn’t have such great gifts to give me. They buy me bookmarks. I use a wide variety of bookmarks and many hold special places in my heart.
  4. Gifts. It’s hard to gift an e-book, at least for me. I love giving a real solid book and I love receiving them even more. In fact, I received two books about oysters for my birthday, and purchased a book as a vacation souvenir. Not e-books, real books.
  5. Inscriptions. My older son gave me the two oyster books as gifts and I was so excited for him to write me an inscription. He wouldn’t be able to do that with an e-book. Now I’ll always remember he gave them to me, selected by him, based on his knowledge of a topic that excited me.
  6. Passing books down. My grandfather had lots of books to pass down, and we love them. I’ll have books to pass down, too. I love that we have these memories of him and love that my real books will be based down, too.
  7. Selling used books. But not every book is worth keeping and passing down. I don’t know if one can sell used e-books, but I love being able to sell (and buy!) used books.
  8. Access to information for all. I love the ease of an e-book, but I think it’s important we still have real books that don’t rely on technology to access. Many of my reasons are based on the emotions surrounding books, but this reason is a larger good reason. I don’t ever want access to books restricted and if we only used technology to read books, I worry our access could be limited or cut off.

I want to always have a book to read, even if it’s one I’ve already read. And I always want you to have a book to read, too.


Would Stuart Little be Published Today?

Based on an idea I call the Stuart Little Experiment, I think it’s harder to be published today in children’s literature. I’m reading Stuart Little with my kids right now. At first they were reluctant to start it. I don’t give in to complaints easily, and they can’t resist me reading to them while we are all snuggled under blankets. After the first few chapters they were hooked.

“There’s not much happening,” said the middle kid, age 11. “But this is fun to read in a day-in-the-life-of kind of way.”

I agreed, parts of it are really entertaining. I particularly liked the scene where Stuart gets caught up in a window blind. The cat is very amusing in that chapter and the idea of a mouse wearing dapper clothes.

Yet there are other parts that make that same kid cry out in disbelief and a little touch of dismissiveness.

“Why does the mother still think this mouse is really her child?” he asks more than once.

We kept reading. And then it happened. I read one chapter that made me think, “Nope. No way. This would never make the cut.”


Stuart Little first edition

Published or Punished?

Before I did my research, I assumed Stuart Little hit the shelves after Charlotte’s Web. Editors would take anything he wrote after Charlotte, I supposed. I was wrong. Stuart Little was written in 1945, and it was White’s first book. But back then, I’m not sure White had very stiff competition.

(Have you even heard of, let alone read Rabbit Hill, the 1945 Newbery winner?)

Some classic books, while quiet, could still find life in 2018. I think Charlotte’s Web easily could be published any year. The horrible pigeon book I read that somehow, beyond all rational thought, won a Newbery Award would never, ever make it today, in my opinion. Probably the roller skating book that also won a Newbery would be dying a slow death in a slush pile today. At least I hope it would.

I think, sadly, Stuart Little would be, too, thanks to the sailing chapter. It started out fun with a cute image of Stuart longing to sail the boats at Central Park. Of course he was dressed for the part. But then White basically dives deep into self-indulgent waters and overloads his text with so many nautical terms that I don’t think either of my kids could form a mental image of what was happening. I think they were relieved I was reading aloud so they didn’t have to struggle with the strange terminology that was served up without enough context to help them grasp the ideas. They got the gist, but I think  other kids might have lost interest, or felt frustrated.

At the very least, I think editors today would heavily revise the chapter.

And what is the purpose of the chapter? To show off White’s nautical knowledge? It taught us a little of Stuart’s character, and perhaps it will tie in later with some kind of plot or story, but it really felt like White was pleasing himself and not necessarily a reader. I’m think this book would not be published.

The Stuart Little Experiment

I would love to try this experiment. I want to put chapters from older, beloved children’s books in front of editors with altered names and see what modern editors would say about the content, writing style, language, etc. Would Stuart Little be published today?

It would be challenging to try and identify books that editors hadn’t read, and to not clue them in that they are reading already published books. We’d need to throw a few fakes into the mix. I wonder if there’s an idea for a conference session somewhere in here??

2018 SCBWI Western Pennsylvania Fall Conference

Registration is open for the 2018 SCBWI Western Pennsylvania Fall Conference! 

The conference will be November 9 and 10 at the Hyatt Pittsburgh Airport. Our faculty this year includes Samantha Gentry, Charlotte Wenger, Susan Graham and Stephanie Fretwell-Hill. Linda Camacho will also be providing critiques. We’ll have new PAL-led sessions and a pitch party on Friday.

Don’t wait, register today!