The thoughtful scratchings of a busy coop: Hen&ink, A Literary Studio



Sandra Guy


I’m thrilled to have been invited to participate in the My Writing Process Blog Tour. The four simple questions I was asked have acted as anchor and star in what I hope will be a new cycle of focused creativity and growth.


A big thank you to fellow Coop member, the exceptionally talented, prolific and generous, Doug Cushman, for the giving me the opportunity to contribute. Doug’s latest book, Pumpkin Time!, written by Erzsi Deàk, is now available from Source Books.


What am I working on? I’m working on two projects at the moment: Sophie Jack Crow is a middle grade book for girls about families, belonging and the clash of traditional verses modern magic. Georges, the Demon and the Making of Magic is a creative picture book biography of the early French filmmaker, Georges Méliès. It’s essentially the story of a man and his muse – a brilliant but cantankerous drawing demon. Both books explore what it means to stay true to yourself when the times and their values are changing.

How does my work differ from others of its genre? I think my work has an edge. Part of that comes from the fundamental assumption that magic is real and always has been – whether it’s the old magic of witches and the spirits of land, sea and sky, or the power of inspiration, hope and connection. Most people I know crave more magic in their lives. I feel my writing creates a space where a reader can run smack into it, believe in it for a while and ultimately, if they so choose, start creating a little more of it for themselves.


Why do I write what I do? I could quote the Mary Oliver poem “The Summer Day” in response to this question. Why do I write what I do? Because I don’t have the answers and it’s only in writing what I see and feel that I know it is sometimes enough that I remember to ask the questions. I do know how to pay attention though, and I can still fall into long grass on my knees, feeling idle and blessed.

There is something about the speed of our lives today that is squeezing the magic of true connection out of the world. Maybe, if we make time to read and conjure up the images created by the words of gifted writers or if we find time to contemplate the complicated eyes of a dragonfly, we can bring it back again. Catching and sharing a little of that magic is why I tell the stories I tell.

When Mary Oliver asks at the end of that same poem –

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?”


I proudly reply – I write stories to help us remember.


(To hear the wonderful Mary Oliver reading “The Summer Day” please check https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16CL6bKVbJQ)



How does my writing process work? I’m easily caught by ideas. Almost anything can get me going – the juxtaposition of old and new, dark and light, male and female. Once I’ve felt the shiver of a story or character close by, I let it take up residency in me. I create a world around it and explore facets of the one it has come from, burying myself in books on the same subject or visuals of the time period or place where the story is happening. I don’t start writing until I can see the world my protagonist lives in and hear his or her voice in my head. And I usually only begin when I can say the opening paragraph of that unwritten story out loud.


Once I start I’m hooked. I write three or four hours a day, starting at the beginning of the story and working all the way through to the end of my first draft. I write at least a chapter a day sometimes more, always leaving the writing on a cliff hanger so I can slip back into the story easily the next day.


After I’ve written myself out (I’m generally less productive after three hours of new writing), I work on the more technical side of a piece – the mechanics of plot and pacing, the writing of different lengths of synopses, the balancing out of conflict and story sags. I write monologues that won’t appear in the book. I draw charts connecting characters and flow diagrams connecting time and space and keep them in clear coloured files. When I finish writing for the day, my white glass desk is immaculate but the room I’m writing in is awash with images – mood boards for characters and places that appear in the story, odd details in photos torn from glossy magazines – anything that allows me to bathe in the essence of the story I’m working on without actually writing more of it.


Once I have a first draft I tend to leave it for a month to let it settle. Then I go back, hopefully with fresher eyes, and read it with a view to revising. And my revision process, well now, that’s a whole other story. . .


Up next on the My Writing Process Blog Tour is Melissa Buron, a writer I first met in Paris and with whom I am also working on a collaborative teen novel.


For the past twenty-one years Melissa Buron has worked as an author, librarian and teacher in Africa, Europe and the United States. In January 2014 she launched MAB Media, an indie publishing company that specializes in high-quality trade fiction and literary non-fiction. MAB Media will release their first books in Summer 2015. To find out more please follow MAB Media on Twitter, “like” their Facebook page or check-out their website at www.mabmedia.net. Melissa will be posting details of her writing process on the first of September, on her personal blog at www.melissaburon.com and also here at www.henandinkblots.wordpress.com.


“My Writing Process” blog tour: Jessica Lee Anderson

Much appreciation to Laura Gehl for bringing me along on a ride of the writing process blog tour! The weather is hot here in Texas, and it is a perfect time to slow down and reflect with a glass of iced tea while my daughter naps.  If you haven’t already, check out Laura’s post on how she approaches writing and uses post-it notes to her advantage.  iced tea

Lots to love and kudos to the awesome Erzsi Deak for spreading the writing process love!  As you can see, PUMPKIN TIME is a huge at the Anderson household.

Jessica Lee Anderson's daughter enjoying PUMPKIN TIME

Jessica Lee Anderson’s daughter enjoying PUMPKIN TIME



What am I working on?  I have four educational emergent readers in the pipeline, though I’m not at liberty to disclose much information at this time. I love writing for a variety of age groups and I have stories I’m in the process of writing from the youngest of readers up to young adult.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?  Even with educational work-for-hire projects with very specific guidelines, each writer takes a personalized, creative approach, and I’d like to think I’m no exception. We all seem to have our own unique way of exploring ideas, visualizing stories, and getting our words down on the page.

Why do I write what I do?  I absolutely LOVE children’s literature! So much so that I studied Children’s Lit at Hollins University.


How does my writing process work?  I’m a write-at-home/stay-at-home mom to an almost one year old, so my writing process tends to be a bit chaotic these days. I keep a writing journal handy to log my ideas and to do some early drafting. When my daughter naps, I get on the computer and write for as long as I can. I’ll edit and write about an hour or so if possible once she goes to sleep in the evening.


My view while I write.  Can you spot my daughter napping (see the small screen)?

My view while I write. Can you spot my daughter napping (see the small screen)?

Tag!  They’re it!  Look for responses from these authors soon:

E. Kristin Anderson (no relation!) grew up in Westbrook, Maine and is a graduate of Connecticut College. She has a fancy diploma that says “B.A. in Classics,” which makes her sound smart but has not helped her get any jobs in Ancient Rome. Once upon a time she worked for The New Yorker magazine, but she soon packed her bags and moved to Texas. Currently living in Austin, Kristin is an online editor at Hunger Mountain a contributing editor at Found Poetry Review. Kristin is the co-editor of the DEAR TEEN ME anthology (Zest Books, 2012), based on the website of the same name. As a poet she has been published worldwide in many literary journals from the UK’s Fuselit, to Cordite in Australia to the US’ Post Road and the Cimarron Review. Recently she’s graced the pages of Asimov’s Science Fiction, and she has work forthcoming in teen magazine Cicada. Kristin is the author of two chapbooks of poetry: A GUIDE FOR THE PRACTICAL ABDUCTEE (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014) and A JAB OF DEEP URGENCY (forthcoming, Finishing Line Press, 2014). She hand-wrote her first trunk book at sixteen. It was about the band Hanson and may or may not still be in a notebook at her parents’ house. She blogs at EKristinAnderson.com.

Stephanie Pellegrin wrote her first novel at the age of seven about a boy heart who falls in love with a girl heart, only to learn her “heart” is already taken. The school librarian posted it on the bulletin board and to this day Stephanie still wonders why none of her classmates asked for her autograph. When not writing books for kids (which contain no love triangles involving talking hearts) you can find her consuming copious amounts of coffee, watching House Hunters, or rereading Harry Potter for the millionth time. She lives in Austin, TX with her husband and dog and is currently seeking representation.

The Writing Process Blog Tour – Susan Montanari

Susan Montanari:


Special thanks to Laura Gehl for inviting me to participate in The Writing Process Blog Tour. You can find Laura’s post at Laura Gehl (www.lauragehl.com)


As to the four questions…


What am I working on?


I usually have several projects going at once. At this time I’m working on a sequel to my Fall 2015 picture book, My Dog’s A Chicken (Schwartz and Wade) and the sequel another picture book Who’s The Grossest of Them All (Schwartz and Wade). I just completed the fourth rewrite of my YA novel, The Day Sasquatch My Journal, and I’m knee-deep in a second YA action/adventure book for young women.


How does my work differ from others of its genre?


My books are a reflection of my off-beat sense of humor. I find humor in some pretty odd places and my interests are diverse.


Why do I write what I do?


I write to get the characters out my head. They drive me crazy sometimes.


How does my writing process work?


For picture books it’s all about the idea. Once I get a good idea, the story and voices just start flowing and I have to write it down. That’s the easy part. The hard part is the editing and rewriting until the story is told using the best vocabulary and sentence structure possible. My critique group has been invaluable to me.


For YA the process changes. Sometimes I write from an outline and I’ve also written straight out. When I say straight out I mean vomiting the story out on the pages and cleaning up the mess later. I would have to say writing from an outline makes more sense.


Tag you’re it:


I’m happy to tag the talented Page McBrier. Page McBrier is the author of 44 books for young readers, including the award-winning New York Times bestseller, Beatrice’s Goat. New releases include her action-packed middle grade time travel novel, Abracadabra Tut, and also One Cow and Counting, her latest book for Heifer International, an organization that works to end hunger and poverty and care for the earth. You can find Page’s post at http://www.pagemcbrier.com




“My Writing Process” blog tour: Laura Gehl (spoiler alert: there are post-it notes involved…)

I am excited to participate in the My Writing Process Blog Tour.  I love reading books about writing.  Two of my favorites are Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and, recently, Ann Patchett’s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage (from which I learned that she…like I…began her writing career in the magazine world).  Reading blog posts about the writing process is just as fun, and a whole lot faster.

Author of the newly-released Pumpkin Time and agent extraordinaire Erzsi Deak invited me to do this blog tour.  If you haven’t read Erzsi’s post about her writing process, you can do so here.

What am I working on? I am working on all kinds of children’s projects, ranging from picture books to early readers to chapter books to middle grade novels.  One of the projects I am most excited about is a biography of astronomer Nancy Grace Roman, whom I’ve been lucky enough to interview in person.  If you know who Nancy Grace is, you will share my excitement.  If you don’t know anything about Nancy Grace, well, I hope you can buy my book in a few years.

 How does my work differ from others of its genre? I have read the same advice from several sources: develop a unique writer’s voice.  It is possible that I am failing at this in a big way.  I have books in rhyme, and I have books in prose.  I am working on fiction, and I am working on nonfiction.  I am shooting for serious, and I am shooting for funny (mostly funny).  With all of this variety, do I actually have a writer’s voice?  Or is it more like lots of voices screaming at once (Oh, wait…that’s my kids)?  I can think of one common denominator for all of my work: I write about likeable main characters, whether in fiction or nonfiction, picture book or middle grade, prose or rhyme.  No dark and twisted for me.  In fact, one of my challenges is making sure my likeable fictional characters have enough flaws to be realistic.

Why do I write what I do? I am a scientist as well as a writer.  I’m now trying to bring that scientist’s perspective into my books.  I am working on several nonfiction books plus several fiction books with scientific themes.  I vividly remember the sense of wonder that science gave me in my own childhood.  I would love to spark that sense of wonder in other kids.

How does my writing process work? There are a lot of post-it notes involved.  I am always scribbling on post-it notes.  My first two books (ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR, AND THEN ANOTHER SHEEP TURNED UP) began with the titles popping into my head, and I am working on several other ideas that began with titles.  In addition to writing down possible titles, I constantly write down funny things my kids say.  Right now, my oldest son loves to use the word “okayly.”  Not a word, you say?  Well, he is determined to use the word enough that it becomes generally acceptable.  This means that a character with the goal of adding new words to the dictionary is definitely on my mind.  Oh, and no discussion of my writing process would be complete without mentioning my two not-very-secret weapons: my amazing critique group…and dark chocolate.

Next up on the blog tour: I am thrilled to introduce three of my fabulous coopmates, who will be sharing their thoughts about the writing process.

Doug Cushman is the writer and/or illustrator of over 125 books for children, including several New York Times Children’s Book Best Sellers.  Doug has also been honored with a Reuben Award for Book Illustration from the National Cartoonists Society and a California Young Readers medal.  He enjoys cooking (and eating), painting, and playing the guitar (not that well).  Doug’s newest book is Pumpkin Time.  You can visit him online at http://www.doug-cushman.com.   Check-out his blog August 4th at http://www.pumpkin-time.com/ under what’s growing!

Jessica Lee Anderson is the author of Trudy (winner of the 2005 Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature), Border Crossing (Quick Picks Nomination, Cynsational Book of 2009), as well as Calli (2013 Rainbow List Final Nomination, 2011 YALSA’s Readers’ Choice Booklist Nomination). She’s published two nonfiction readers, as well as fiction and nonfiction for a variety of magazines including Highlights for Children. Jessica graduated from Hollins University with a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature, and instructed at the Institute of Children’s Literature for five years before teaching at St. Edward’s University. She is a member of The Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels and hopes to be more sweetheart than scoundrel. She lives near Austin, Texas with her husband, daughter, and two crazy dogs.  You can visit her website at http://www.jessicaleeanderson.com/ and check-out her My Writing Process blog right here at henandinkblots on August 4.

Susan Montanari’s first two picture books (MY DOG’S A CHICKEN and WHO’S THE GROSSEST OF THEM ALL) are coming soon from Schwartz and Wade at Random House.  
Susan has written numerous articles for local parenting magazines, and was a finalist in two categories for the 2010 Tassy Walden Award for New Voices in Children’s Literature in Connecticut: one for My Dog’s A Chicken, and the other for her YA novel, The Day Sasquatch Ate My Journal. Susan’s hobbies include gardening, scuba diving, natural science, legend tripping, and cryptozoology. She has three daughters and one son-in-law, and currently resides in Norwalk, Connecticut, with her husband, one daughter, and a cat named Tybee.  You can visit her on Facebook by clicking here. Check-out her My Writing Process blog right here at henandinkblots on August 4.






Fraught with Peril: A Book-loving Family at the Bookstore

by Hen&ink’s LAURA GEHL

Like every book-loving family without millions of dollars in spare cash, we are a family of library enthusiasts. In fact, we have close to two hundred items checked out from the library right now. No, I’m not exaggerating. The limit at our library is one hundred items, which is why I had to get my kids their own cards.

But yesterday, we went to the bookstore. We had formal photos taken of the kids earlier in the afternoon. To reward their cooperation, we told them that they could each choose a book from the bookstore. As a parent who loves reading and writing books, taking kids to the bookstore to buy books is a great treat for me too. But it is also fraught with peril. Will they make good choices? Or will we end up with a(nother) Ninjago book? Should the adults get veto power?

The three-year-old was our biggest challenge. Could we steer her around the Hello Kitty and Dora “books,” and the stuffed animals, and the craft kits? Yes! We did! She picked out Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses. Success! Except that we realized after we left the store that she had actually shoplifted a tiny copy of Charlie Brown. Her brother helpfully brought it back into the store.

The five-year-old originally seized on If You Give a Dog a Donut. Then he decided he wanted a book he hadn’t read before and chose The Day the Crayons Quit. I hadn’t read that one before, either. I’ve now read it out loud several times, and it was an excellent choice. Although there are a lot of words. Not a good book to read right before the school bus comes. Try telling that to a five-year-old.

My seven-year-old quickly seized on one of the National Geographic Weird But True books. We already have a bunch of them at home, but he double checked, and this one had all new weird facts. Another good choice. Who knew that there are fish scales in some brands of lipstick?

Then there was the nine-year-old. He first picked out a new Gordon Korman book. He and I both adore Gordon Korman. But then he switched to a nonfiction book about the Baltimore Ravens. His reasoning: “I can get the Gordon Korman book from the library, but they won’t have this one at the library.” This sounded…reasonable. But I was still surprised, since his favorite team is actually the Detroit Lions (nobody knows why…we have absolutely no family connection to Detroit). This led to the following conversation:

Me: Why do you want a book about the Ravens?

Him: I’m a Ravens fan. I have a Ravens toaster, you know.

Yes. I do know. The Ravens toaster was a very expensive purchase my son made with his own saved-up money, used enthusiastically for a week, and then tried to sell to his brother. That didn’t work, so the toaster is still available if anyone would like it. A piece of toast with a big burned-on letter B is really a great way to start the day. Or so I hear. I’m actually the only member of my family who refused to eat one.

Final score: four good choices. Zero Dora. Zero Ninjago. Gehl Family versus Bookstore: Gehl family triumphs!


As you will have gathered, Laura Gehl is a writer and a reader. Her picture book ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR (Beach Lane) is receiving terrific reviews across the board, and her first two books in the PEEP AND EGG series are due out from FSG in 2016.  Laura writes a monthly column, “Ask Dr. Cyborg,” for Odyssey, a children’s science magazine, and writes about scientific and medical topics for a variety of other child and adult publications.  Her first three picture books will debut over the next year: ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR in September 2014, followed by AND THEN ANOTHER SHEEP TURNED UP and HARE AND TORTOISE RACE ACROSS ISRAEL (both from Kar-Ben/Lerner) in February 2015.  Laura’s best ideas come from her four young children. She is a prolific writer, as well as a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Hen&ink Coop! She’s blogging at henandinkblots this month.  You can also check out Laura’s new website: www.lauragehl.com


Keepin’em laughin’ at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop 2014

by Hen&ink’s Barbara Younger

Erma Bag and Journal


I grew up reading Erma Bombeck in the Baltimore Sun and my mom’s copies of Good Housekeeping and Family Circle. Dubbed “The Socrates of the Ironing Board,” Erma delighted many and shocked some with her witty, spot-on accounts of life as a suburban housewife. When Erzsi suggested in a query letter to an editor that my menopause blog was “in the vein of Erma Bombeck,” the conference called my name.


The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, with a focus on humor and human-interest writing, takes place every other year in Dayton, Ohio. In the day, workshops are held on the campus of Erma’s alma mater, the University of Dayton. Festivities continue in the evening at the nearby Marriott Hotel.

The spirit of Erma  infuses the conference with a fine blend of spunk, grindstone, and warmth. Clips of Erma interviews are shown before each meal, and the conference schedule/journal features Erma quotes. Speakers are dynamic and generous in their advice. Some words with happy asterisks from my notes:

Lisa Scottoline: “You have to do something that makes you cringe to make them laugh” and “If it feels safe, it’s been done before.”


Nancy Berk: “Shyness will get you nowhere.”


Dan Zevin: “Keep a funny word file” and “Humor is taking the mundane and bringing your sensibility to it.”


Anna Lefler: “Take yourself out of your own head and edit your work as someone else. Ask: ‘What would so and so do?’ This is not to lose your voice, but it’s helpful to edit with a different slant.”


Judy Carter: “There’s a thin line between comedy and tragedy. Write as close as you can to that line.”


Gina Barreca: “The most personal is the most universal” and “Tell the secret about yourself.”


Arielle Eckstut: “A pitch is like a poem, where every word counts.”


Erma Quote


Erzsi has told me (more than once) that I’m holding back in my writing. The Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop shouts, “Don’t hold back!” It’s the friendliest conference crowd I’ve met, attendees can participate in a Pitchapalooza as well as a stand-up comedy show, and the conference Facebook page welcomes ongoing discussion.

The meals are fabulous! I ate my favorite food, cake with butter cream frosting, at lunch and dinner, and on Friday night, in the spirit of not holding back, I devoured two pieces of the best carrot cake ever. Then I raised my wine glass to Erzsi, and to Erma, who knew plenty about not holding back in writing and in life: “Seize the moment,” Erma wrote. “Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.”

Erma Cake

About Barbara Younger

Barbara’s blog, Friend for the Ride: Encouraging Words for the Menopause Roller Coaster, has received several top ten menopause blogger awards. The author of twenty-one books for children and adults, Barbara is celebrating the dessert theme with a novel-in-progress, Eva Heaven and the Summer Pie Blog. She writes from her house in Hillsborough, North Carolina. She is represented by Erzsi Deak at Hen&ink Literary Studio.

Barbara Reading to Maze

Barbara reads to her grandson Mazen, who loves books and cake!

Ah touloulou, if that ain’t the easiest thing to do: Taking Your P’s to the 4th Annual New Orleans Children’s Book Festival

Whitney Stewart on the Storyville Stage with A CATFISH TALE  and sends word: 

Thousands of New Orleans kids took their parents out to the children’s book festival at Latter Library on Saturday November 16. An annual event, the book fest offers free books, free storytelling, and loads of games for kids of all ages. Headlining at the storytelling tent was Mayor Mitch Landrieu. He let his young fans take over the microphone and read aloud to their parents.

Whitney Stewart reads from her picture book, A CATFISH TALE at the New Orleans children's book festival.

Whitney Stewart reads from her picture book, A CATFISH TALE at the New Orleans children’s book festival.

Whitney Stewart A CATFISH TALE New Orleans2

I followed that spunky act and shuffled to keep the kids involved. Good thing I’d printed out and laminated giant pages of my forthcoming picture book A Catfish Tale [Albert Whitman & Co Publishing, 2014]. My toddler audience crawled up to be close and personal with Gerald Guerlais’s lively renderings of my characters Jacques and Jolie who live down on the bayou. The highlight of my morning was when my listeners became active participants and repeated my magic Catfish’s favorite line–“Ah touloulou, if that ain’t the easiest thing to do.”

Find Gerald Guerlais at http://www.geraldguerlais.com

Thanks to Todd Ragusa for the photos. More Festival shots here.

About Whitney Stewart

“Whitney Stewart is a dreamer and traveler who will go far for a good story. Writing has taken her to Himalayan caves, Burmese temples, Costa Rican rainforests, and former Polish battlefields. True stories are her favorite kind, and she can’t pass one up without wanting to retell it for young readers. But sometimes a place like the Louisiana bayou inspires fantasy, and that’s when Whitney captures the voice of a magic catfish to recount some southern lore.”
A Catfish Tale (Albert Whitman, Spring 2014)
Big Sky Mind: Mindfulness for Kids (Windy Hollow Books, Spring 2014)
Marshall, The Sea Dog (Soundprints)
Who Was Walt Disney? (Penguin)


Happy (early) Thanksgiving!

Here at the Coop, we’re celebrating Thanksgiving this weekend with Chick Jeanne (http://jeannedesaintemarie.com/) and her family here in France.

Thanks to Chick Andrea Zuill for the Wonderful World of Homer, the Urban Wolf. http://zuill.us/andreablog/

Must get back to the kitchen!

Enjoy the football, all of you on the other side of the big water (and buy a book or two or three or four on Black Friday!).


P.S. There are zero turkeys in the Coop.

It’s over! Henandink.com is up and running!


Coming soon a guest blog by Barbara Younger.




Alert: Boring post about email not working

To avoid missed messages, please use these gmail email addresses for Hen&ink Literary Studio communications while the server is not working.

The website is also down due to whatever is going on, or rather not going on.

Thank you!

henandink at gmail.com

henandinksubmissions at gmail.com [NOTE: We are currently closed to submissions.]

henandinkscout at gmail.com for all things related to Editions de la Martinière and le Seuil jeunesse.


Thank you for your understanding,





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