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

“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,




Painting It Up With Friends and Kids at the Seattle Convention Center

by Wendy Wahman (as seen on her blog)

Lots of great art by SCBWI children’s book illustrators in our show at the Seattle Convention Center. I was lucky to have Suzi and Richard Jesse Watson at my table, drawing and collaging with dozens of young artists at the opening.


My co-illustrator.

Picture 4

Wendy Wahman is the author/illustrator of DON’T LICK THE DOG: MAKING FRIENDS WITH DOGS and  A CAT LIKE THAT, and illustrator of SNOWBOY 1, 2, 3, written by Joe Wahman. DON’T LICK THE DOG was selected as a 2010 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year, starred for Outstanding Merit and accepted to the Society of Illustrators Original Art show. Her A CAT LIKE THAT book trailer was selected from over 7,000 entries to be in catvidfest 2013, Walker Art Center. Wendy’s editorial illustrations have appeared in major publications including Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. Her favorite job-type job was working in the art department of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, until its print closure in 2009. Wendy and Joe live near Seattle with their two children, who look and act remarkably like standard poodles.   She is represented by Hen&ink Literary StudioWebsite   Blog   Behance   Pinterest   Facebook   CafePress   Twitter  Linked In


The Last of the Season – Château Chantilly from a Painter’s Eye

by Doug Cushman (first “aired” on aNewsCafe.com!)

If you threw a rock outside of Paris proper in any direction, chances are you’d hit some kind of château. Throughout the convoluted Parisian history, royal residences have been built, destroyed, rebuilt and repaired. Some of the most notable are Vincennes, Fontainebleau, Malmaison, Compiègne, Blandy-le-Tours, Sceaux and, of course, the famous—and infamous— Versailles.

But of all the châteaux within a short train ride outside of Paris, the Château de Chantilly holds a special place. It even prompted President Nixon to comment on an official visit to the town of Chantilly in 1968, “Why have I been taken to Versailles seven times and never here?”

A short history: A mansion was built in 1484 but was replaced by the Petit Château around 1560,and stayed in the same family for generations. It was then sold to other families, the most famous of which were the Bourbon Condés. In the 17th Century Le Grand Condé commissioned André le Nôtre to design the gardens. Le Notre had just finished the gardens at Versailles. The Grand Château was destroyed during the Revolution. The Duc d’Aumale, who owned the property at the time and exiled to England, returned and rebuilt the Grand Château. The Duc bequeathed the Chantilly estate to the Institut de France in 1884, on condition that his collection of art would be open to the public. The collection itself rivals that of the Louvre.

In modern times the Chateau has had an interesting history, including a host to a triathlon and movie set backdrops, notably The Longest Day in 1962 and the James Bond thriller A View To a Kill in 1985.

Just across the road are the Grandes Écuries, or the Grand Stables. It’s said that the Duc de Bourbon, Prince of Condé, believed that he would be reincarnated as a horse after his death. So, in 1719, he asked the architect, Jean Aubert, to build the grand stables (rivaling the château itself in size and grandeur.). They are considered to be some of the most beautiful horse stables in the world.

The castle is a constant inspiration. From a painter’s point of view, however, approaching a series of watercolors over 5 months is daunting. Not only does he have to deal with the usual hazards of painting en plein air—hauling an easel, paper and supplies onto a train, erraticweather, changing light and hordes of gawking tourists who must talk to you while flashing a camera in your face—but he needs to find a way to mirror the rich detail in the towers, spires and walls of the chateâu…without painting every damn window he sees.

I decided to paint what Emily Dickenson calls “a certain slant of light”; the way the sun hits the rounded roof towers and walls. I love watercolor and think it’s the perfect medium to capture that transientlight. The white paper itself is an essentialpart of the painting. The trick is to not let on that you’re leaving a lot of the paper unpainted, that most of the color and value goes into the shadow areas with accents of green, blue and red painted in the background.

The light is the thing.

These paintings took about 2-3 hours apiece to paint, all on site. No fixing in the studio. Those were the rules. The foundation of a watercolor is a solid drawing so I spend as much time as it takes to get it right. Much of the time was taken in just the drawing.

Last Wednesday was the end of the painting season for me. The air was cold, the wind blew bitter down my neck. The light was still marvelous but the days are shorter.

It’s time to pack up my easel and paint, wash my brushes and perhaps schedule some painting classes on the castle grounds for next year.

The Chateâu Chantilly is worth a visit even if you’re not a painter. It’s an enchanting castle unlike most of the grand “boxes” one sees around the French landscape. It’s a short day trip just outside of Paris proper and easy to be back in time for dinner in the big city.

But as a painter, of course, the start of a new painting season begins next spring. I can’t wait to see the sun hit the spires and roofs and the bright, yellow green of the blossoming trees and to breathe in the refreshing country air.

But then, I wonder what the chateau looks like covered with snow…

Doug Cushman is the designer of the original Hen&ink black hen and an artist and author who lives and works in Paris, France. He was born in Springfield, Ohio, and moved to Connecticut with his family at the age of 15. In high school he created comic books lampooning his teachers, selling them to his classmates for a nickel apiece. Since 1978, he has illustrated and/or written more than 100 books for children and collected a number of honors, including a Reuben Award for Book Illustration from the National Cartoonists Society, New York Times Children’s Books Best Sellers, and the New York Public Library’s Best 100 Books of 2000. He enjoys hiking, kayaking and cooking (and eating!). He is represented by Hen&ink Literary Studio. Stay tuned for PUMPKIN TIME! from Sourcebooks. Learn more at his website, doug-cushman.com.

Ring in the Good Cheer!

The First Annual Hen&ink Iconic Holiday Black Hen Contest

Last year, Doug Cushman gave the Black Hen of Hen&ink’s logo a holiday dash of color (and additional style, n’est ce pas!?).


THIS IS NOW (extra points if you can name the author of that book sans Google et al) and you are invited to show us your take on our iconic bird for a chance to be the “face of Hen&ink” for the 2013 holidays.

Please send your interpretation of the Hen&ink Hen to info [a] henandink.com by 1 December 2013. The contest is open to Coop and non-Coop members. If the winning illustration is by a Coop member, s/he get lots of extra scratching. If the winning illustration is by a  a non-Coop member, the illustrator will be entitled to one picture-book project critique and possibly an offer of representation.

NOTE: Only one entry per person. Repeating myself, but please send only one jpg or pdf per artist, along with a short bio (100 words). Please include your name  in the filename (ex: SmithBlackHen13.jpg). Any multiple entries will be discarded. Judging is completely subjective and final. Only the winner will be notified of the outcome before we go live with the image.



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