Five Tips for Writing Realistic Dialogue in Young Adult Fiction, by Lori Ann Palma


In the coming weeks, Lindsay and Lori Ann will be sharing their favorite posts from the past. This post originally appeared in March 2015.

Most writers will tell you that good fiction is all about the show, not about the tell. Dialogue is one of the most important “showing” tools in a writer’s toolbox, but when it comes to writing exciting and believable dialogue in your YA fiction, an additional challenge presents itself.

Most of us YA writers are quite a few years beyond being a teenager, and even if we vividly remember those horrible high school memories or occasionally page through our angst-ridden diary, channeling a teenage voice isn’t always so easy. Our perspective and language have evolved with age, which is why new writers often create conversations with how they think teenagers speak instead of how they actually do. But when writing for the smart, passionate YA audience, sounding like you’re their age is the key to luring them into your fictional world.

So, how do we write YA dialogue that makes readers fly through the pages? In addition to reading a lot of YA fiction, consider these tips:

Turn on Those Captions: Since the boom of YA fiction, many books have been adapted for television and film (Pretty Little Liars; The Fault in Our Stars; and Divergent are only a few major examples from recent years). When I’m struggling with dialogue between my characters, I turn on the captioning/subtitles for these shows and movies. Instantly, I have the ability to not only read what the characters are saying, but also hear how they say it. The beauty of captions is that they allow you to make the connection between the words and the natural way they are spoken, providing a litmus for your own YA dialogue. Ask yourself: Is my protagonist too formal and adult? Do all of my YA characters speak in full sentences? Do they use any slang that I can apply? If you have love for a particular YA show or movie where the dialogue exchanges keep you riveted to your seat, then turn on those captions, listen, and soak it in.

Eavesdrop on Strangers: If you are more adventurous and want to hear how teenagers speak in their natural habitat, trying eavesdropping. What you’re listening for isn’t the subject matter, but how it is exchanged. Teenagers (and people in general) use verbal shorthand that isn’t always captured when you write. As an example, we often don’t speak formally, such as, “Do you remember when we used to play hide and seek as children?” More likely, the statement would be something like, “’Member playing hide and seek when we were little?” It’s a slight difference, but it adds another level of reality to your writing. These shorthand techniques show your character’s age and reveal emotions. Clipped one word answers might demonstrate anger, or maybe show the deep connection between best friends who don’t need a lot of talk. Listen to the inflections and the shorthand and you’ll begin to feel the pattern of speech. One caveat on eavesdropping—be courteous and try not to look creepy. These are teenagers, after all! Try a place where you can “read” something without too much notice. If you can, also glance at how they are standing and facial expressions. It might provide you with some additional inspiration for your scene.

Make Friends With a Teacher: Teachers, librarians, and other school personnel are at the forefront of the teenager world, and they are invaluable in explaining the latest jargon or giving examples of how real teenagers speak. I’m lucky enough to be married to a high school teacher who comes home with a bounty of new words on a weekly basis. Someone who can tell you the slang that’s “in” or “out” will be an important resource for your writing. You may even enlist this person (if you trust them) to read some of your dialogue and let you know if it sounds and feels like it came from a young adult. Half of their lives are surrounded by your target audience, so use their expertise!

Do Some Math: As you develop your YA characters, calculate the year they were born and write it down. As adults writing for YA, we have to keep in mind that their scope of history is different from ours. For example, kids entering high school next year were likely born in 2002 or 2003, so their experience of 9/11 is from news clips and stories. A character who is extremely young or who has not lived through a historic event will talk about it differently. This time challenge also applies to pop culture references—my idea of classic rock is Led Zeppelin, but for today’s young adults, classic rock is Nirvana. The difference may not seem like much, but it does create authenticity in your YA character’s world.

Read It Out Loud: I know this is likely one of the most uncomfortable things you might try, but it works. If you’re not sure how your dialogue flows, then ask a (caring, non-judgmental) friend to help you act it out. If you know a teenager who won’t laugh you out of the room, even better! No props or performance skills are required, only a clear voice that reads the words exactly as they are on the page. As you cringe (and you will), listen for the places where the dialogue stumbles. Your voice knows when you’re reading versus how you truly speak, and automatically tries to correct it. These blunders may include too much formality (cannot instead of can’t), or overuse of melodrama. If any part of it doesn’t feel right, then keep revising.

All of these tips aim to help you write YA dialogue that is honest without being boring.

What tried and true methods do you like to use for writing realistic YA dialogue? What has worked for you and what hasn’t?

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Last Writer Standing, by Lindsay Bandy


In the coming weeks, Lindsay and Lori Ann will be sharing some of their favorite past blog posts. This post by Lindsay originally appeared on the blog in August 2015.

What does late-night comedy writing have in common with writing for kids and young adults, you ask? Ah, very much indeed.

On Wednesday nights, my husband and I enjoy getting the kids to bed and watching Last Comic Standing for some grown-up laughs. In this stand-up comedy competition, the comics  write and perform their own short sets and vie to be the last comic standing at the finale (and win stuff). Whenever I watch a talent competition, I prick my ears up at judging time. What can I apply to my own art and craft, so I can impress my own panel of editorial “judges?”

So here are a few pointers to apply from Last Comic to your writing:

  • Bring it Back Around. The most successful stand-up acts tend to come full circle. The last joke ties in to the first joke, making it even funnier. A good picture book will also give this sense of completeness, tying the first and last lines together. Like the short sets on Last Comic, you don’t have a lot of space in a picture book. So think ahead and tie the ending in to leave a lasting impression!  Novels should do the same by providing a scene in the beginning that will be mirrored somehow in the end to reflect a character’s growth. This could be emphasized through a repeated line, a repeated situation with a different reaction/outcome, etc.
  • Stay in Character. You never know if the screwball people up on stage are playing “themselves” or a character, and if they’re doing it right, you shouldn’t know. Every joke, every word, every expression, every movement has to stay in character. In this way, comics are writers and actors….and in a sense, as writers, so are we. Especially if we’re writing first person!!
  • Know When to Use White Space. Sometimes it takes us a sec. A good comedian knows when to pause and let a joke sink in. Sometimes they punctuate a pause with a funny look or a sip of water. It’s all part of their strategic pacing and presentation….and it needs to be part of the writer’s as well. Use paragraph and chapter breaks wisely. Similarly, composition in the artwork of a picture book can utilize white space very effectively. Using stand-alone lines in a novel draws attention to the sentence. The white space, like the strategic pause, sets your joke – or your dramatic realization, stare of jealousy and rage, sudden and tragic death, or that look of love and longing – apart. It makes the reader take note. It gives them a sec to process it on their own, so you don’t have to dump lots of extra words around it to tell them it’s important.
  • Hook AND Reel. Start with a bang! Hook ’em. But don’t fizzle. Reel them in by building upon your hook….increase tension and don’t let it sag, or your reader will swim off in search of new bait. Your hook is a promise, so keep it!
  • Get the audience reaction. Oh, this is hard with our writing! We sit at a desk or curl up on our couch with a laptop and feline and cherish our words. It’s us and the words, and we’re a happy couple. And then, it’s time to go public!! Introduce them to the family….change the Facebook status to in a relationship with XX Story and wait for the comments.  The first time I met with a critique partner, I was terrified! I bought a special, decorative folder just to make sure I looked like a real writer. I was sweaty. I took a few Tums. But guess what? It gets easier. And the reaction and advice is priceless. Sharing a part of yourself with another human being is wonderful, if terrifying! So, if you want to share your words (ex: be an actual, bona fide author) you’ve gotta start sharing. Ain’t no other way. And you’ve got to be prepared for the crickets….because if nobody’s laughing, you need to curl up on your couch again with a carton of Ben n Jerry’s, and write it again. Share it again. Write it again. Share it again. And again. And again….Until you’re the last writer standing, because you kept putting your butt in the chair and standing up again.



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Spring Call for Blog Submissions: We Want Your Posts! by Lori Ann Palma


It’s been a while since Lindsay and I put out a call for blog submissions, and now that we’re already into spring and summer is on the horizon, it feels like a good time to remind our readers that we’re looking for posts from your perspective.

If you’d like to make 2017 the year you expand your reach and wish to contribute to Eastern Penn Points, we’d love to see your post! Our themes are as follows:

  • May:“Bring May Flowers” Share your biggest triumph with writing or illustrating (finding a work space, finishing a draft/piece, publishing your work, getting an agent, etc) and what you learned along the journey.
  • June: “Summer Reading”What’s the best book you’ve read lately and why? A book on craft that you found inspiring? A summer sizzler that taught you to relax and enjoy quiet reading moments? A picture book that inspired reading or art-making in your child or class? Tell us about it!

If you have a great idea for a post but don’t feel it fits with the monthly theme, send it anyway! The themes are a guide, but they are not a rule. If you have an idea but you aren’t sure it’s right for the blog, send me an email ( and we can chat about it.

Because we know your time is limited, it’s important to let you know what you get out of submitting blog posts to Eastern Penn Points.

Save Time, Make Friends
Maintaining a blog is hard—if you run your own, then you know this is true! Coming up with ideas for posts, finding copyright free images or developing your own, plus keeping to a regular posting schedule can be overwhelming. By submitting an occasional post or a scheduled series of posts to Eastern Penn Points, you get the best of both worlds. Your thoughts about writing and/or illustrating reach thousands of people, and you don’t have to do any of the formatting or blog management yourself. To give you an example, I started out by submitting two posts a month, which was not only manageable for me, but also provided me with a chance to expand my reach on an established blog. It’s allowed me to connect with more people, which is always the best return for my time investment.

Build Your Online Presence
If you’re a writer or illustrator with the intention of querying agents in the future, or you’re currently querying, having a few articles on our blog gives you an online presence. Most agents will Google your name prior to offering representation, and while you don’t need thousands of followers on every social media site out there, it does help if you have a small platform to build on.

Fill In That Empty Bio
Blogging for Eastern Penn Points also provides you with a short bio to place in your query letter—you can say you are a contributor to the Eastern PA SCBWI blog. If you have no other publishing credits to speak of, this is a huge benefit because it shows you are active within a community of children’s writers and illustrators.

If those reasons haven’t convinced you to join us in the blogging fun, here are a few other points to remember:

  • Posts don’t have to be long…500 words will do it, with a maximum of 1,500.
  • If you can’t commit to one or two posts a month, that’s okay! One post every few months, or even less, works for us. We’re not going to hassle you!
  • Your perspective matters. Even if you think we’ve written about it before, your contribution is unique because it’s from you.

I hope you’ll start thinking up some blog ideas, because Lindsay and I would love to hear from you! Submissions can be emailed to me at, and you can look at our Submissions page for more information.

Happy writing!


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Practical Advice: Getting Beyond the Middle of a Draft, by Lori Ann Palma


In my past blog posts for Eastern Penn Points, I’ve talked about fear as an obstacle to writing, and while this struggle is still high on the list of creative troubles, it isn’t the only concern. After attending the recent SCBWI EPA Pocono Retreat, I found that the talented group of writers I spoke with had no trouble writing and creating; what they—and I—predominantly struggle with is getting through the troublesome middle of our projects.

Whether you’re writing a first draft or editing your work, it’s easy to get stuck in the middle. The initial steam that propelled you forward has burned out, and that’s exactly how you feel—burned out. You have an idea, but you don’t know where it’s going, why it’s going, or how to get your characters moving. The finished product seems very far away, indeed.

As I’m struggling with this myself, slogging through the first edits to my work-in-progress, I feel as if I’m staring at the pages, accomplishing nothing. There are problems I need to fix, and yet it’s like I’m stuck in mud, half-heartedly struggling to get out, but growing more tired and disinterested in freeing myself. Simultaneously, I feel the weight of the ticking clock and the pressure I put on myself to finish something I’m proud of. If you’ve been where I am, then you know it’s a terrible feeling!

So, what’s the solution?

Since I’m living this right now, I want to share my plan of attack:

Take a break: This one is self-explanatory. Step away from the work to gain perspective, but use that time wisely. See below…

Interview yourself: When I’m not sure of the reason I feel stuck with a story, I ask myself why and then try to answer honestly. During this Q & A, you might find that your story bores you, or the scene where you’re stuck bores you, or your characters aren’t interesting. Perhaps this project isn’t true to you—it’s writing to a trend you don’t really care about, or it’s just that you’ve wandered into a storyline you don’t want to explore. This interview might happen on paper, within your own mind, or with a writer friend, but don’t skip the investigative work. There’s a reason you’re stuck—diagnose the problem as best you can.

Return to craft: It’s time to hit the books! Like doing research on how to treat an illness, find craft books that address the issue you’re having with your WIP. Reading up on plot structure may guide you toward an element that’s missing in your draft, such as action, drama, or twists. If boredom is an issue, read up on how to build dynamic characters, or punch up the amount of evil in your villain. Regardless of your issue, there are tons of resources out there to help.

Read: Now that you’ve researched, look at real world examples. Pick up a book that has a similar plot to your own, or re-read a book in your same genre that inspired you to write in the first place. If dialogue is your sticking point, choose a book that zips along with feisty exchanges. If your characters feel flat, look at fiction with an ensemble cast of stand-outs. Make notes, mark pages, underline passages (if it doesn’t pain you to write in books!)—just begin stockpiling examples that SHOW you how to fix the issue.

Make a plan: Now that you’re armed with information, from both craft books and fiction, make a plan for how to treat the problem you’ve diagnosed. A simple way to do this is to bullet a list, but any method will work as long as you clearly define your next steps.

Go back to the middle and TRY: The only way out is through, so return to your WIP and see it anew. Try out some of the things you’ve learned and return to your examples. Be willing to scrap some boring scenes or characters, or add new characters. Keep trying until you find the spark again that gets you over the middle and toward the finish line.

This is my plan of attack, and I hope it works for you too!

Posted in Practical Advice, writing craft, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Pocono Recap and New Logo Reveal! by Lindsay Bandy

The return to real life after the Pocono Retreat (laundry, sibling squabbles, HVAC repairs, oh my!) is always a tough one, and this year has been no exception. Now that I’m home and my children are back onto their normal bedtime and tooth-brushing routines, I’m reflecting on the best moments of the weekend, and I hope you will, too! Use this post as a little fill-in-the-blank guide to sharing about your weekend in the comment section. And if you couldn’t join us this year, but enjoyed the retreat in the past, feel free to share a thing or two that stuck with you.

BBThe first highlight to share with you is OUR NEW EPA SCBWI LOGO! Thanks to all the amazingly talented artists who submitted and made the logo decision reeeeally hard! After voting by secret ballot at the retreat, we’re happy to announce that Beth Bogert’s logo was the winner!









Do you like it?! Be sure to tell Beth!

And now, here are my Best of Pocono 2017 Moments…..

Favorite Food of the Weekend: The food!!!! I don’t have to cook it, which is miraculous in and of itself. And I have a very good theory that a socializing introvert burns at least double her usual calories (don’t look up any data on that, please.) So…my favorite? While I was delighted by the surprising cream puffs filled with ice cream (!), the chili and cornbread, and the luscious salads, I have to say my favorite single dish was the grilled cauliflower. I’ve never enjoyed cauliflower so much in my life – well done, chef. Well done.

-Hardest laugh of the weekend: I happened to overhear someone saying they wanted to win the “Shriveler Subscription” instead of the “Scrivener Subscription” in the silent auction. Rest assured, I will NOT be outbidding you on a Shriveler! (Ps. To the person who said this, I totally know you just got tongue tied. Thanks for the giggle!!)

-Most emotional moment of the conference: Listening to author/illustrator Kelly Light discuss her very personal road to publication. We were honored to have you join us, Kelly, and we cheer you on towards many happy endings ❤

-Scariest moment of the weekend: When my phone overheated on the Turnpike and I couldn’t get my GPS to work for a bit. Either that, or anticipating my critiques. Both were pretty terrifying, but both worked out just fine in the end.  I did not get lost. And I did not cry. SCORE!

-Warmest Fuzziest moment of the weekend: All the hugs! Seriously, there is so much love in our company. As someone who never quite fit into any of the high school cliques, it’s AMAZING to feel so much a part of this group. Susan Campbell Bartoletti said it best when she said that entering the writing community made her feel like “The ugly duckling who found her swans.”

Thank you to all of those friends who hug me, listen to my struggles and joys, and encourage me along this bumpy road. You are my GPS! Thanks for understanding that I sometimes talk to myself, fall asleep untangling plot problems, and use the quiet space of written words to figure out my world. My world is a better place thanks to you!

Share memories here….

Posted in Pocono Retreat, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

What Being a Writer Has Taught Me So Far…Or How to Become a Circus Performer, by Lori Ann Palma


I started writing seriously about ten years ago. And I use the word “seriously” to define the time I really attempted to begin a novel versus the twelve-year-old me who thought writing a book would be cool, but promptly gave up when I realized it was hard.

In those ten years, I’ve completed three manuscripts, published one short story, been rejected about a hundred times, and written over 75 blog posts. I’ve experienced highs and lows, and when I take in the entire ongoing experience, I can honestly say that the valuable lessons I’ve learned along the way have made this crazy ride worth every second.

As my writing career continues, I keep returning to these lessons to overcome fear, rejection, and deadlines. They’ve taught me to twist and adapt to my circumstances, which often feels like I’m training for the circus life instead of the writer’s life. Through the hurdles listed below, I’ve learned, and am still learning, how to be a writer who can perform under pressure.

Hurdle #1: Fear and Doubt Are Not My Friend. For as long as I’ve been writing, I still experience fear and doubt. I’ve learned it can happen at any time… before I start a project, in the middle, during the revision stage. Additionally, my reaction varies—it’s been minor in some instances and absolutely paralyzing in others. After years of starting and finishing projects, I’ve come to understand that fear is part of the process. It blooms from my own self-judgment, and once I realize this (all over again), I know I’m only battling the critical thoughts in my head and not actual truths.

  • Lesson Learned: Become a Human Cannonball. The lesson I’ve learned is that writing is the only cure for fear. Like a human cannonball, I now know that I must launch myself into the story, no holds barred, no judgments, and keep going despite my fears. Yes, it’s going to feel extremely uncomfortable shooting at a zillion miles an hour without seeing a landing point, but it works every time.

Hurdle #2: Editing is Way More Difficult Than I Thought. When I first completed a manuscript, I was on this amazing high. I’d finished something! The euphoria quickly evaporated when I read through my draft and realized it was a raging dumpster fire. The beautiful prose I thought I’d written didn’t exist, and the realization was terrifying and disheartening. At first, I didn’t like the editing process because it defied the fast-paced action of words flowing on the page, but what I’ve realized over time is that editing is a blessing. They call it revision because it allows you to make the vision in your mind become reality. Without editing, my characters would be flat, my theme would be nonexistent, and all the potential in my draft would go unrealized.

  • Lesson Learned: The Lion Tamer Has Nerves of Steel. The lesson I’ve learned is that it’s natural to fear the first draft beast. It might growl and take a few swipes, but I have the power to tame it if I’m willing to enter the cage. We may tussle and fight, and I may be frustrated and afraid and overwhelmed, but if I keep at it, we’ll eventually get along, and I’ll put on a better show for my readers.

Hurdle #3: Rejection is the Worst Feeling Ever. Ah, rejection. At first, I thought I’d whisk through the publishing process like a cloud through the sky. Um, no. The truth is that no writer gets out unscathed. When I got my first rejections from agents, it felt like acid eating my insides. I couldn’t do anything except struggle to understand why it happened to me. And my reaction didn’t improve for a long time because I continued to take rejection like a personal hatchet to my writing dream. Over the years, I’ve learned that rejection is inevitable if I continue to put my work out there, and more importantly, I have control over my experience of rejection. I can choose to see the negative, or I can take a moment to consider the positives—I’m working on my dream, I may have received valuable feedback, I now have an experience with a particular agent, or, at the very least, I know that this agent isn’t right for me.

  • Lesson Learned: Take a Cue from a Sword Swallower. When swallowing a sword, I have to imagine it’s something you do very carefully and thoughtfully. Rejection is the same way. Initially, my brain goes into a shame spiral, as if I’ve done something wrong, but when I take the time to think about it, I can pull myself out of that rut and see all the positive. It still hurts…I mean, sword swallowing doesn’t seem pleasant, but it’s a risk that does come with reward.

Hurdle #4: There Will Never Be Enough Time. I want to finish editing my WIP. I want to write another novel. I want to make tons of art. I want to blog and draft a non-fiction book and write epic tweets and Instagram my life. But…when? It’s impossible to do everything at once without turning into a harried and overworked mess, so I’ve learned that I must prioritize. For now, editing my WIP, my new web site, and social media are my priorities. Everything else has to wait, and that’s okay. For now, I can only do what I can do.

  • Lesson Learned: Professional Jugglers Are Super Smart. There’s a reason jugglers only juggle three or four bowling pins at a time—adding more increases the chances of dropping everything. I employ this same logic. If I juggle three things, I’ll glide along. If I add a fourth, I might not be able to handle it. Prioritizing is key.

Hurdle #5: Social Media Doesn’t Feel Very Social…It Feels Like Work. I’m managing three different social media networks right now, and the learning curve has been difficult. This hurdle is one that I’m still in the process of overcoming. What I’ve learned so far is that each network has its own set of rules, and I must adapt to those rules. I can’t sit back and wait for knowledge to come to me. I must seek it out instead.

  • Lesson (Still Being) Learned: Platform Divers Aren’t Afraid of Heights or Eyes. I think of the old timey divers at the turn of the century who would leap from a platform into a small pool of water, sometimes on a horse, as hundreds of audience members waited to be entertained. They might’ve been afraid, but they didn’t hesitate. Learning social media is like that as well. I’m finding that I have to dive in, make mistakes, and adjust while everyone watches.

Hurdle #6: This Is My Serious Writer Face. I’m not only a writer, but a serious writer who takes my work very seriously because I write serious YA. Ugh…sounds like a bore, right? This is what I’ve learned, too! Nobody wants to talk with someone who can’t lighten up and find humor in the fact that we hear voices in our heads and then write that stuff down. (Take the label of writer off of it, and you’re just weird.) Laughing is so important, and I wouldn’t have learned that without SCBWI EPA events where I’ve met other writers. I now know I can be serious about my writing without having to be serious all the time.

  • Lesson Learned: Being a Clown Is the Best Job Around, Who doesn’t love to laugh? And who doesn’t love to make others laugh? Being a clown doesn’t mean you can’t take your craft seriously…after all, even clowns must go to school. But they also know that fun is meaningful and brings people together. If I’m going to write, then I’m also going to have fun while I’m at it.


Now it’s your turn! What hurdle have you experienced, and what type of circus skill have you used to overcome it?

Posted in A Creative Life, The Creative Process, Writer's/Illustrator's Toolbox | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

A Chat with Cynthia Kreilick About “Publishing Local” and Morning Circle Media, by Anna Forrester

MCM logoThere are so many ways to get your stories out to readers – from self-publishing to publishing with one of “The Big Five,” to everything in between.

This spring I had the pleasure of meeting Cynthia Kreilick, who writes picture books and also runs a small, local press in Philadelphia that falls into that “in between” category.

Morning Circle Media occupies a unique niche on the publishing spectrum. Its website explains that Morning Circle “…publishes beautiful, bilingual children’s books that feature the diverse communities of Philadelphia.  We collaborate with the best writers and illustrators in our region to promote an appreciation of culture, language and art.”

I’m delighted to welcome Cynthia to Eastern Penn Points today to talk about Morning Circle Media and her work there.

Anna Forrester: First off Cynthia, can you tell us a little bit about how Morning Circle got started?

Cynthia Kreilick: A midlife crisis. That’s how Morning Circle Media was born. I was really bored with what I was doing, despite a good salary and great colleagues. I was at an age when I knew it was “now or never,” so I took a leap (thanks to a very supportive husband, who could finance my new business).

I had been working in early childhood education for over 20 years before I took this leap. I had a good network and lots of experience reading picture books to children. I had also been writing creatively all my life. This network has paid off. It’s much easier for me to get my books into the hands of early childhood educators because they know me and trust the quality of my work.

AF:  Boredom is definitely a powerful – and important motivator! I’m imagining that your background in Early Childhood Education must have also contributed to Morning Circle’s mission—and that your midlife crisis coincided with some sense of a need in the children and communities where you worked. Could you tell us a little bit about Morning Circle’s focus, and where it springs from?

CK: Morning Circle Media sprang from a desire to write about the things that matter to me: language, culture, and the nature of being human.

I was visiting a lot of early childhood programs, in both urban and rural areas, doing technical assistance and quality improvement consulting. There were lots of books about numbers and shapes and colors and jobs that people do, but I was not seeing books for little children that prepared them for the complexities of life or the gray areas that we grapple with on a day to day basis. Authors and publishing houses were skirting the really vital topics that invite children to experience their emotions…their humanity: aging and death; sexuality; violence; love; faith; sacrifice; betrayal; reconciliation; the quest for identity. And there were very few books that showed people of color in an authentic, meaningful way. Many of my books deal with universal feelings and aspirations. The fact that they are bilingual helps people of various cultures talk about common themes.

AF: Do you feel like the #WNDB movement is beginning to address any of your concerns? (If yes, how? And how is what you’re doing also different?)

CK: Wow! What a great organization! We have similar missions. Morning Circle Media, however, focuses exclusively on creating and publishing children’s picture books. We also feature mostly Philadelphia-area authors and illustrators. Because Philadelphia has so many art schools and so many talented writers, we have an endless supply of fantastic local talent. We love promoting our homegrown authors and illustrators!

AF: As a small, local publisher, what strategies do you use for distributing your books and getting them out there to readers?

CK: We have two main ways of distributing our Morning Circle Media books: teacher workshops and story visits. I have a special certification in the State of Pennsylvania that allows me to do professional development for licensed early learning programs. 75% of our books are distributed at these early literacy and cross-cultural understanding workshops. Each participant receives a free book when they attend a workshop. Our bilingual children’s books are the focal point of most of these trainings. Teachers take the books and the extension activities directly to the classroom.

Our Morning Circle Media Story Visits are popular with Philadelphia early learning programs, the Free Library of Philadelphia and local public and private elementary schools. Programs are required to purchase a minimum of 10 books per Story Visit. Often, programs order many more than 10 in order to give a book to each child in a given classroom or school. Each Story Visit includes a bilingual reading of a particular book and an extension activity that goes deeper into a concept introduced in the book. We do not spend a lot of time putting our books in bookstores or on Amazon. If you’re not actively promoting your books, they’re not moving!

AF: Morning Circle Media’s work feels more relevant than ever with the current political climate growing more complex for immigrants. I wonder: are you interested in hearing from writers, illustrators or educators who might want to submit work or otherwise get involved with Morning Circle Media and its work?

CK: This is an easy answer: Yes!  Morning Circle Media would love to collaborate with Philadelphia authors and illustrators interested in publishing children’s picture books about our local immigrant communities.  We are particularly interested in working with immigrants themselves.

We are also starting to reach out to investors who want to help fund our books and our educational outreach.  We are looking for people who are interested in promoting bilingual early education and cross-cultural understanding. My mother, for example, just funded a cross-cultural understanding event, sponsored by the Free Library of Philadelphia, for Kindergartners at Jenks Elementary School.  My daughter and I read one of our early books, Lucha and Lola, took the kids to a Mexican monarch butterfly sanctuary via Skype, and did a monarch butterfly art project—all in a one-hour class!  This event would not have been possible without the generous donation of my mother. 50 children received a copy of Lucha and Lola, met the author and illustrator, and learned about a very unique, endangered insect.

Thanks so much for this interview!

AF: Thank YOU Cynthia – I look forward to seeing what comes next at Morning Circle Media!

Anna Forrester’s debut picture book, BAT COUNT (illustrated by Susan Detwiler), was published by another “in between” publisher – Arbordale Publishing– in February 2017. Arbordale publishes picture books with science and math themes to ignite a passion for reading and learning.

Connect with Anna through her website or on twitter @annaforr.

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“A Method for the Madness” & Silent Auction Announcement, by Virginia Law Manning, EPA Critique Group Organizer


I’ve read it takes the average author 10 years to get their first book published. TEN years. But, one thing I’ve learned is that you can’t rush it. You have to do your homework. While there are no short cuts, you can have a plan, and I’m big on plans! Here is my roadmap to submissions:

  1. I get an idea for a story. I write it down. I’ve started using Scrivener to keep track of my picture book ideas. I don’t actually begin writing the story though until I’ve had a chance to let the idea brew and bake. When my idea comes to life with a beginning, middle and end that I think will work, I…
  2. Write my first draft. I revise it but I don’t go crazy. I’ve realized that my greatest weakness as a writer may be my propensity to spend hours tweaking wording in a manuscript when the manuscript has bigger issues. When the first draft feels ready to share, I…
  3. Submit my manuscript to my critique group. The first time around, my critique partners (CPs) are looking at big items. Is there a clear problem? Does the MC try to solve his/her problem? Is the ending satisfying? Then I…
  4. Read the critiques. There are four people in my group. Often in the early stages, my CPs will give me similar feedback because the flaws are more obvious. I revise my manuscript to address their feedback. Then I…
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until either:
    1. I lose interest/become frustrated and need to take a break from the story, or…
    2. I’ve gotten to a version where the comments from my critique partners no longer agree with each other and the feedback seems to reflect my critique partners’ individual tastes rather than my vision for the story. At this point, I may still put the manuscript away so that I can look at it again with fresh eyes in a few months. Otherwise I…
  6. Send it to my alternate critique partners. I have several friends whom I swap critiques with from time to time when I need “a fresh set of eyes” on my work. I may also call in some favors. For instance, earlier this year I asked the educational director of the preschool where I work if she would critique a manuscript for me. Then I…
  7. Look for paid manuscript critique opportunities. Having my work critiqued by editors and agents has taught me so much!!! I know they are expensive, but I cannot stress enough how important they are! Sometimes if I’m stuck on a manuscript, I might get a manuscript critique with an author. While they can’t offer us representation or sign a contract, authors can help us brainstorm our manuscript problems.
  8. After I’ve addressed the editor’s/agent’s feedback, I resubmit my manuscript to my critique group with the editor’s feedback. My CPs can help me identify if I’ve made the necessary changes.
  9. If my CPs give me the green light, I start submitting, but I still keep my eyes open for other paid manuscript opportunities. One reason I do this is because, after working on the story that long, I start getting impatient and with a paid manuscript critique I know when I’ll get a response. This is an expensive indulgence I allow myself.
  10. At every step, I’m always thinking of new story ideas and storing them in my Scrivener file.

I hope you’ll think about what your current plan is and whether it’s working for you. If you don’t have a critique group, please check the EPA website under “Local Critique Groups” to find a group to join.

I really want you to succeed! If you’re going to the EPA Pocono Retreat, I have donated a “Picture Book Author’s Care Package” for the Silent Auction. The care package includes three of my favorite writing how-to books, a book lover’s journal, and the opportunity to have three picture book manuscripts critiqued by me. Proceeds from the Silent Auction go to the Pocono Retreat Scholarship Fund. It’s a win-win-win situation!

I hope to see you at The Barn!


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Dealing with Doubt: A List of Writerly Reassurance, by Jeanne M. Curtin


I was sitting at my desk, ready to write, when an unwelcome visitor, Doubt, barged in. The longer Doubt stays, the bigger and louder that visitor grows. So, I managed to push Doubt out the door by coming up with this list of Writer Club clues. A list to reassure myself that I am, indeed, a writer.

Are you one, too?

  1. Libraries and book stores are magnets.
  2. Your heart smiles when a book is in hand.
  3. Idea catchers are close by at all times. Notebooks, recording devices, cellphones, etc. One never knows when the best ideas will surface.
  4. If you’ve said more than once, That would make a great story. And this counts whether you’ve said it out loud or to yourself. Which is a perfect segue to clue number 5.
  5. If you talk to yourself. When characters come to life, they’re like different voices inside of writers’ heads. And sometimes, if we get a little stuck, talking to our characters, asking them questions, can help us get unstuck.
  6. You enjoy a good word game. Like Scrabble, UpWords, WordBrain App, etc. Writers love juggling, finding, and creating words. Word Nerds are we.
  7. Though you may be up and about by five or six o’clock in the morning, you may still be wearing PJs at two in the afternoon. My office is conveniently located right down the hall from my bedroom.
  8. You enjoy the idea of eating letters. Like alphabet cereal, soup, or crackers. After all, you are what you eat. Letters form words, words form sentences, and sentences form stories.
  9. You surround yourself with other writers. Your friends list is growing with others afflicted with the writing bug, too. You join critique groups and professional organizations.

Number 10 was intentionally left blank for you to fill. Please leave your clue in the comments below. 

And for the illustrators out there, what reassures you that you are indeed an illustrator? 

Jeanne M. Curtin is a member of SCBWI, Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Challenge, Rate Your Story, two critique groups, and volunteers at an Elementary School Library. She mostly works on picture books, but has a new adult novel in the works, and has self-published Brave, a young adult novel. She has a 21 year old son, and lives with her fiance in the Harrisburg area.


Posted in Writer's/Illustrator's Toolbox, Writing Tips | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

A Cafe Chat with Senior Editor and Author Orli Zuravicky, by Lindsay Bandy

Cafe Chat Cup

IDA Design

Orli Zuravicky is a senior editor at Scholastic, and she has written and edited over a hundred books for children. She’s about to add “2017 Pocono Retreat Faculty Member” to her long list of accomplishments! Here she is with a little Pocono Preview, and general chatty fun.


LB: Hi there, Orli, and welcome to the Eastern Penn Points Cafe! As we settle into our comfy booth, what would you like to drink?

OZ: Hello! Thanks for having me. I would love a coffee. There’s never a time when I’ll say no to coffee!

file7961249615202.jpgLB: You’re in good company there. Something to snack on? 

OZ: Hmmm… I think I’ll have an omelet.

LB: Excellent. Make mine a Western!

We’re excited to have you on our Pocono 2017 faculty! Can you give us a little teaser about what you’ll be sharing at the retreat?

OZ: I’m very excited to be coming this year! Giuseppe Castellano, art director at penguin, and I will be doing a session together all about the working relationship between the editor and the art director, who is responsible for what, and how their relationship and the decisions they make impact a book in various ways.

LB: That will be fantastic!

Oooo….OMELETTES have arrived!! While you chew, think about the last book you read that made you…..

Laugh out loud: 
Do they have to be kids’ books?: I think I’m going to go with adult choices–I spend so much of my time in the world of children’s publishing that it’s a treat to read an adult book!

So, the book I read and reread every time I want to laugh is Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half. It’s hilarious.

Cry (or at least sniffle): Hmmm… I would have to say Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed.

Go all warm and fuzzy: Let’s see… I’m not sure about warm and fuzzy. I’ve been on a bit of a mystery bent lately so I can’t remember the last book that left me quite feeling like that. If I had to choose, I would say Pride and Prejudice, which is one of my absolute favorites, and always just makes me happy.

lauren graham.jpg


Change: Lauren Graham’s recent memoir had a section about writing in it that I thought was super interesting, and it’s inspired me to rethink my writing routine.


HEA2+version+2.jpgLB: You’ve got some mad juggling skills, Orli, being both a successful editor and author! How do you find time to work on your middle-grade series HAPPILY EVER AFTERLIFE amidst the busy business of editing? 

OZ: Thank you. Well, I guess I would say that when I’m in the midst of a writing deadline, I do a lot of hibernating on nights and weekends, and I basically go into hiding haha. After long days at work, it’s obviously very hard to focus more at home, so I try to use the nights to decompress so I can be ready to write on the weekends. Sometimes, when I’m in the middle of something, I can work for a couple of hours on a week night. I’m the kind of person who needs a lot of alone time, so I have to factor that into my process in order to be productive.

LB: How does being an editor make you a better writer? How does being a writer make you a better editor?

OZ: I think about what I ask of my authors and try to deliver that as a writer. As an editor, I’m always asking my authors to show and not tell, and I’m always asking them to create an emotional connection between the reader and the characters–so these are things I keep in mind as I write, and it definitely improves my work.

LB: Your heart would explode into a million rainbows if you came across a manuscript that combined….

rainbow heart.jpg

OZ: I’m focusing on nonfiction right now, so I’m on the hunt for narrative nonfiction picture books that focus on an important and interesting topic, but that do so for the picture book aged reader. So many nonfiction manuscripts I get are simply too sophisticated; I think writers feel they are allowed more leeway with nonfiction topics, but the reality is, your ‘reader’–who is really just a listener at that age–ranges between 4-6 years old, so you still need to entertain them and hold their suspense in the same way you do with a fiction picture book.

LB: I talk to a lot of picture book writers who are unsure of how to navigate the currently trendy author/illustrator style, with very sparse text and an emphasis on telling a story more visually. Any words of wisdom for these storytellers without professional illustration skills of their own?

OZ: This has definitely been a bit of a trend, but as an editor I can tell you that we still absolutely appreciate how difficult it is to write a good picture book–and in order to do that, you need to be a good writer. If you write a strong manuscript, no editor is going to reject it because you can’t also illustrate it. You only have the talents you have, and if you aren’t gifted with the talent of illustration, there’s nothing you can do about that. What you can do is hone the skill that you DO have, and that’s the ability to write a great story. So I would advise these writers try not to use up your energy worrying about this, and instead, to take that energy and put it into writing an incredible story.

IMG_8839.JPGLB: What’s one thing you currently see too much of?

OZ: Bedtime stories. I see a ton of bedtime-focused picture book manuscripts, and while this is definitely an evergreen topic, it’s hard to do it differently than it’s already been done. That’s not to say it’s impossible! Just a big challenge.

LB: What’s one thing that makes you stop reading a manuscript?

OZ: If my interest isn’t immediately grabbed by the time I’ve turned the first page, the chances are there that I will stop reading. Picture book manuscripts are so short that writers need to make a big impact in a short amount of space–and they need to make sure every word they use says what they need it to say.

LB: Okay, Orli, it is now time for rapid-fire favorites! Take a deep breath and tell us your fave….

Baby-shower gift book: My friend Raquel D’Apice’s Welcome to the Club. It’s a hilarious adult book about baby firsts–but not always the firsts you think.welcome to the club.jpg

TV Show: Sons of Anarchy.

Type of shoe: I’m a colorful pump kinda gal.

Candy: Twix. Hands down.

Book as a child: I loved Corduroy, Caps for Sale, and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.

Corduroy-Book--pTRU1-6671663dt   caps-for-sale   steig--sylvesterandthemagicpebble.jpg

Recreational activity: Painting things in my apartment! I love interior design and I’m often found painting old dressers and chairs–I even painted the backsplash in my kitchen!

LB: Oh, we are kindred spirits! I’m always looking for something to redecorate (just ask my husband!)

Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us, Orli! Can’t wait to meet you in just a few weeks.

OZ: It was my absolute pleasure! I’m looking forward to meeting you as well, and spending the weekend with tons of creative folks!

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