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

A Moment of Kindness, or that pivotal moment that keeps the reader reading

No matter how small or how grand a gesture, showing your character's act of kindness humanizes even the doggiest of us all. Or maybe, rather, it doggifies even the most human of us all. For the record, Sacha, pictured about to save the non-drowning person (in no danger) WOULD Save The Cat.

No matter how small or how grand a gesture, showing your character’s act of kindness humanizes even the doggiest of us all. Or maybe, rather, it doggifies even the most human of us all. For the record, Sacha, pictured about to save the non-drowning person (in no danger) WOULD Save The Cat.


This is a short note about empathy. Character empathy. I see a lot of texts where a character (primary and secondary as well) blithely starts his or her story with no thought of the reader. How selfish! As one who reads lots of texts (this goes for everything from a picture book* to all fiction and even non-fiction), I can tell you this disregard for the reader is off-putting and I, for one, have no problem closing a book or rejecting a manuscript where I don’t feel empathy for the character.

                 As readers we need well-rounded character and we need to experience the good, and the bad of the characters, we are following in a story. In the case of the main character, we need to identify with her/him (I’d guess 99.9% of the time that’s with the good stuff). But if a story starts out and we don’t see or experience any redeeming qualities in a character, we aren’t quite as interested in sticking around.

                If she’s grumpy or he’s mean-spirited, albeit with reason, or they are all so dark that even your phone’s flashlight won’t help to see more clearly, we need to understand without a doubt why it’s worth our time (and our money) to keep reading. We need to empathize with the character. Identify with the character. And to do this, we need something that is so basic, it’s almost crazy it’s missed so often.

No matter the hi-tech, smoke-and-mirrors on the page, what is so frequently forgotten/left out is that we need to see, what author/screenwriter Blake Snyder refers to as the SAVE THE CAT scene. It’s the small moment when we meet the main character and s/he does something redeeming, like pull the baby out of the fire, the spider out of the drain, give the homeless kid a bagel. It’s that pivotal scene that defines our character and makes the reader like him or her. And it can be a small moment, but it must be a redeeming moment.

After that, if she’s grumpy or he’s a bastard to his friend or she can’t get out of bed because she’s so depressed, we know this is temporary because WE’VE SEEN THE TRUE PERSON just a few lines above. She rescued the puppy from the oncoming train! He carried the bag of groceries up the three flights of stairs for his neighbor on crutches. She taught the kindergarten bully to read. And we care about that character. We empathize.

So this is a plea to writers — and illustrators* — everywhere to give readers that small offering, so that we want to see what happens to this character we care about. So that we finish the manuscript. Finish the book. Make us care and stick around.


[If you’ve already read or haven’t yet read SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder, I encourage you to take a look at it. It was published in 2005 by Michael Wiese Productions, www.mwp.com.]


Erzsi DEAK is an author (*see how Doug Cushman gave us the SAVE THE CAT moment in their book, PUMPKIN TIME! and write in to tell us about it), an agent to a Coopful of talented authors and illustrators, and the founder of Hen&ink Literary Studio. Feel free to LIKE us on Facebook and anywhere else! 🙂

New Adult: “Sexed” up YA or Bona Fide Literary Movement? An interview with Deborah Halverson, author of Writing NA Fiction



Deborah Halverson on New Adult Fiction -- NOW editors know HOW to sell these books with  characters age 18-25!

Deborah Halverson on New Adult Fiction — NOW editors know HOW to sell these books with characters age 18-25!


Hannah Goodman’s confession: With the exception of Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, I’ve never read a craft book cover-to-cover. I mainly use my craft books to thumb through when I’m stuck and need to be reminded of things like building tension or creating diverse voices in characters. Craft books are points of reference for me, not books to be devoured like a juicy New Adult novel fresh off the presses. Speaking of both craft books and juicy New Adult fiction … I read Writing NA Fiction by Deborah Halverson over the course of a few hours, and I can now say with total honesty that I have read a true craft book cover-to-cover – and it was one of the best reads this year! I recently had the privilege to speak with her via Skype about this title. We covered everything from the history of NA to self-publishing do’s and don’ts.



Hannah Goodman: I couldn’t stop reading your book! Not only did I appreciate the writing style, but I don’t even know you and I could feel your personality in it. It didn’t feel like this dry, overly-instructive or overly-theoretical book. It was fun!

Deborah Halerson: Phew! Yay! That’s what I hoped for. Thank you! I worked really hard to make it something people would enjoy reading all the way through.

HG: I know that your background as an author is in YA fiction and that in 2011 you made the move to nonfiction with Writing YA For Dummies and the recently published Writing New Adult Fiction. What made you go from writing fiction to writing about the craft of fiction?

DH: I think it’s easier to write about the craft of it than to actually write the fiction. After the experience of the Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies book, I wondered if maybe I was a nonfiction writer; I really enjoyed the process. I wasn’t making things up out of the air. I was arranging and rearranging so that what I had to say made sense and had a logical sequence and then was understandable. So that act of arranging and structuring and then finding my spin on things, that was incredibly fun for me.

HG: Before you were an author, you worked as an editor for many years at Harcourt and now you are a freelance editor. How does that influence your own writing?

DH: I enjoy the revision process. I feel like writing nonfiction is that revision process from the start because whatever topic I’ve chosen to write about already exists.  I’m not making stuff up. So, yes, I think that taps into my editorial background. I love editing other people’s work … finding what’s working and seeing if rearranging needs to be done, that part is fun to me. I’m excited about the revision in my editing work, and so I think that comes across in my nonfiction writing.

HG: Do you have preference—writing fiction or nonfiction?

DH: I’m more easily intimidated with writing fiction than non-fiction. So it was a very natural step for me to go into writing about writing because of my editorial background, which I was doing before I even became a writer. [Deborah has two YA books Honk If You Hate Me, 2009 and Big Mouth, 2008.]

 HG: Okay. So, let’s dig into Writing New Adult Fiction. What I really appreciated, as an emerging New Adult fiction writer who has been writing New Adult Fiction since before it had a name, was the historical aspect that you address in the book. I could especially relate to the part where you discuss that, for years you saw these writers who had these manuscripts with characters 18 to 25 but nowhere to send them.

DH: I had seen manuscripts like this back in the day while acquiring (at Harcourt), and the editors couldn’t pick them up because no one could figure out how to sell them. Editors would say, “It’s a great story but I cannot do the next step as a publisher because I don’t know what to do with this.”

HG: Right. So it seems like that’s what made those writers turn to self-publishing. The New Adult genre, as it has emerged, is filled with a lot of self-published authors. What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

DH: Many authors who self-publish see self-publishing as not an end itself but as a backdoor to publishing. So (in the research for this book) I asked editors what are the (sales) numbers you need to see to get your attention? Turns out, the numbers are pretty high for them to say they will sign you up, based on numbers alone. So it’s not numbers that will get you signed, necessarily. You need a quality book, a quality story.

HG: I started as a self-published author in 2004 and the feedback then was self-publishing could hurt you.

DH: That is now no longer the case. That’s the important thing to note. Unless you self-publish badly—poor quality, poor story, and poor packaging. If you publish poor quality, you’re going to hurt yourself. The bad reviews are going to come in, and you can never take them down.

HG: But it does seems like NA self-published writers are getting book deals left and right.

DH: Some of the initial people (who self-published) were getting a lot of money from (traditional) publishers. Now publishers have gone through the initial excitement (of NA), and they are standing back. You are not going to throw huge money at (sales) numbers any more. It’s now more of a building thing. The initial hysteria has worn off, and we’re settling in, and we realize we’ve got something that’s going to stay the course.

HG: So self-publishing can actually help you be seen by a traditional publisher?

DH: If you know you have a great story, and you just haven’t made that connection with a big audience yet, for whatever reason, you can keep submitting and not hurt yourself by self-publishing. The only way you can hurt yourself is if you do it poorly and you get bad reviews, because that cannot be erased.

HG: By the way, you nailed the developmental stages of young people ages 18 to 25.

DH: Getting into the mindset of the developmental stages of the new adult is important. How old can your protagonist be? How (sexually) graphic can authors be? Do these characters have to leave home? Those things matter. How does the teen fiction book with a main character who lives completely on her own fit in? So what is NA about? It’s about the new adult experience and the new adult perspective. I discuss what makes the teen mind different from the new adult mind. I give talks at conferences about the narrative sensibility of teen versus NA fiction. This is the foundation of my book, through every chapter.

HG: Any advice to NA writers?

DH: One of the things about NA is that it is a very speed driven genre. Readers eat it up and they love it. They want more and more, so writers feel this pressure to crank it out, whether it is a series or the next new book. I try to encourage writers to slow down and think about the long term. Would you rather have a lot of three-star reviews, or four and five stars? Let’s figure out what you want to happen in the long term.

HG: Why do you think writers should read Writing New Adult Fiction?

DH: One way I designed both of my craft books was to empower the writer to revise on his or her own. Ultimately there is no substitute for having a trained editor work on your story, but the reality is not everyone can pay for that. So hopefully this book will arm them to do what they can on their own.

HG: In your work as a freelance editor—with, by the way, an impressive clientele list of many folks who have gone on to acquire books dealswhat do you like to edit the most?

DH: I love to edit writers’ whose passion and energy comes through in their writing. A basketball coach once told me, “I’d pick the wild player who dives under the scorekeeper’s table to save a pass than the player who just runs back and forth on the court any day.” I love working with writers who aren’t afraid to dive, whether they need a little guidance from me or a lot. Passion is contagious.

HG: Final and most important question to me, personally. How do you juggle your life as an author, editor, and mother?

DH: Every writer tries to figure out the work/life juggle. I wish I had a secret for pulling it off. It’s about reprioritizing a lot and understanding it’s going to shift every few months. It’s not a boring life.


Read Hannah’s review of Writing NA Fiction

Goodreads Review https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19358743-writing-new-adult-fiction



Quick Bio: Deborah Halverson


1995 First editorial job at Harcourt

2006 Leaves Harcourt and launches editorial coaching service

2007 Honk If You Hate Me

2008 Big Mouth

2010 Launches DearEditor.com

2011 Publishes Writing YA For Dummies

2012 Letters to Santa

2014 Publishes Writing New Adult Fiction

Deborah has edited some well known YA and Children’s books authors: Theodore Taylor, Kathi Appelt, Jean Ferris, and Eve Bunting.



Quick Bio: Hannah R. Goodman



2004 First place winner of Writer’s Digest International Self Published Book Award, Children’s Division for My Sister’s Wedding

2004 Launches The Write Touch (writing coaching and tutoring and editing services)

2006 Winner of Bronze IPPY for My Summer Vacation

2011 Earns MFA in Writing For Young People from The Solstice Program at Pine Manor College

2011 Launches Sucker Literary and is featured in Publisher’s Weekly

2012 Signs with Erzsi Deàk of Hen&ink Literary and publishes volume 1 of Sucker Literary

2013 Publishes volume 2 Sucker Literary

2014 Publishes volume 3 Sucker Literary


Editor’s note: THANK YOU, HANNAH and DEBORAH! 






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.