Eastern PA Webinar—Focus Your New Year Writing Goals: Books that Transcend, with Melanie Castillo


Focus Your New Year Writing Goals: Books that Transcend

Thursday, January 7, 2021

7:00-8:30 p.m. EST

Editor and agent wishlists often include books that surprise them and put a fresh twist on something tried and true. But as so many writers know, that’s easier said than done, and the pursuit of doing so can stop creativity in its tracks. In this webinar, we’ll explore the art of crafting a high-concept story, discuss exercises you can do to develop this skill, and look at real-life examples of books that transcend trends, tropes, or formulas to dial down on what it really means to be part of the conversation and break out in a crowded market.

Can’t make the live session? The recording will be available for two weeks following the event.

A limited number of critiques are available.

For more information and to register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-books-that-transcend/.

Get to know your instructor:

Melanie Castillo is a literary agent at Root Literary. She represents middle grade, YA, and adult fiction along with select nonfiction titles. What she loves most about the job is the balance of creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit. After graduating with a masters in writing and book publishing from Portland State University, she worked as an editorial project manager at Quarto and then as a freelance editor for several years before joining the agency in 2018. Melanie was born and raised in Southern California in a multicultural, blended family, so she has a soft spot for books that shine a spotlight on the nuances of relationships and identity. She currently lives in Long Beach and can be found on Twitter at @wellmelsbells.

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Daydream for Creativity, by Anthony D. Fredericks

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A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks

Daydream for Creativity

“I was trying to daydream, but my mind kept wandering.”

Steven Wright

Go into your memory bank and recall a time in school when you were daydreaming. Perhaps it was during a particularly boring lecture in a history class. Or, maybe you were drifting off while your teacher shared some incomprehensible information about photosynthesis. Or perhaps your mind wandered all over the place during a required school assembly.

Maybe you recall an incident or two as an adult when you daydreamed during a “necessary” and “very important” staff meeting (and you drifted off to a tropical island). Or, what about that time you were sorting through some mundane paperwork at your office desk (and you began thinking about an expensive sports car). Or how about the time when you were sitting by yourself in your department’s conference room, aimlessly toying with a container of Greek yogurt (and thinking about winning the Powerball lottery and moving to a tropical island with your new sports car).

All too often we think of daydreaming as something negative. (“Young lady, isn’t it about time you rejoined our little discussion here?”) The thinking is that people who daydream aren’t paying attention, they aren’t mentally engaged, and they aren’t processing any of the “required” information. But, what if I told you that frequent daydreaming may be a sign of creativity . . . authorial creativity?

When kids daydream, they conjure up imaginary plots that have them sailing pirates ships across uncharted seas, galloping over a frozen tundra to challenge an evil ruler, piloting a rocket ship to a distant world populated by pulsating blobs of purple protoplasm, or assuming some incredible super power. When adults daydream, we often think about escapes to faraway places.

But, how does daydreaming aid our creative impulses? According to psychologist Eric Klinger, it may be because the waking brain is never really at rest. Klinger posits that floating in unfocused mental states serves an evolutionary purpose. That is, when we are engaged with one task, mind wandering can trigger reminders of other, concurrent, goals so that we do not lose sight of them. Other researchers suggest that increasing the amount of imaginative daydreaming we do (or replaying variants of the millions of events we store in our brain) can be creatively beneficial simply because it allows our minds to wander across imaginative landscapes not normally a part of our logic or normal habits of convergent thinking. In short, daydreaming expands our horizons.

Daydreaming is an important mental activity, especially if we pay attention to it. In one study, researchers asked 122 students to read a children’s story and press a button each time they caught themselves tuning out. The researchers periodically interrupted the students as they were reading and asked them if they were “zoning out” or drifting off without being aware of it. They concluded that “. . . people who regularly catch themselveswho notice when they are doing itseem to be the most creative.” The results also demonstrated that individuals scored higher on a test of creativity in which they were asked to describe all the uses of a common object, such as a brick.  Daydreamers were able to compile longer and more creative lists. “You need to have the mind-wandering process. But, you also need to have the meta-awareness to say, ‘That’s a creative idea that popped into my head.’”

But, there’s a cautionary note here.  Research demonstrates a significant correlation between our daydreaming and creativity, not a cause and effect. There may well be other variables at work. However, it’s fair to assume that daydreaming, from a creativity standpoint, is a good thing. It’s not something we should exclude from our authorial pursuits. Having our heads in the clouds is an opportunity to let our creative powers develop and flourish. This is mental play at its finesta potent exercise in which innovative thinking is supported and celebrated.

Raised in an environment of “Stop daydreaming and get back to work,” we often get the message that we shouldn’t be using our minds to think creative things. Thus, daydreaming is frequently viewed as something to be avoided; something that has little place in a writer’s repertoire. The implication is that it’s something bad for your brain. The message is clear: When you’re not paying attention, you’re not . . . well . . . you’re not paying attention! How can you possibly write?  How can you possibly engage in any productive and meaningful work?

Think about it. Or, perhaps, you might want to daydream about it.


Tony is the author of 10,000 Writing Ideas: Essential Strategies for Every Writer (https://amzn.to/3o1vEgP) [“The title is no lie. This book truly will help you get 10,000 writing ideas. Each chapter is dedicated to . . . generating ideas to help writers expand their minds and exercise their brains.” 5-star Amazon review] 

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Eastern PA Webinar: Writing About History for Kids, with Lisa A. Crayton


Writing About History for Kids

Monday, November 16, 2020

7:30-9:00 p.m. EST

Historical fiction and nonfiction offer information and entertainment opportunities for kids. Learn about the creative pitfalls to avoid and success strategies. This webinar covers research, market needs, mentor texts, and other aspects of writing effectively—and truthfully—about the past.

For more information and to register, click here. (Please note, critiques for this event are sold out, but you can opt to be placed on a waitlist for a critique if any critique spots open up.)

Can’t make the live session? The recording will be available for two weeks following the event.

Get to know your instructor:

With more than 30 years’ experience, Lisa A. Crayton provides freelance editorial services (including manuscript evaluations, sensitivity reading, and collaborative writing) to publishers. An award-winning freelance writer, she also is the author of 16 nonfiction books, including 15 MG/YA titles. Her latest title from Capstone Press is Wangari Maathai: Get to Know the Woman Who Planted Trees to Bring Change. A Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing 2020 Desert Nights, Rising Stars Conference Fellow, she will teach a workshop at the 2021 conference at Arizona State University. The PAL Coordinator for the SCBWI MD/DE/WV region, she earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from National University, and a B.S. dual degree (cum laude) in public relations and journalism from Utica College.

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Member News — October 2020

Member News is a monthly feature on the EasternPennPoints blog. We want to celebrate our Eastern PA SCBWI members’ good news and help spread the word far and wide. Send us your children’s book–related news—book deals, releases, awards, author or illustrator events (signings, launch parties, appearances), etc. If you’d like your news to be included in next month’s column, please e-mail Laura Parnum at epa-ara@scbwi.org before November 20.

Here’s some exciting news from our members this month:

Author Hallee Adelman has a new picture book, Way Past Worried, illustrated by Sandra de la Prada, which launched on October 1 (Albert Whitman & Company). In the same style as Hallee’s previous book, Way Past Mad, this book helps children deal with social anxiety: Brock is worried. Way past worried, with his heart thumping and his mind racing. Today is his friend Juan’s superhero party and he’s going all by himself. What if nobody plays with him? What if everyone laughs at him? Brock doesn’t feel like a superhero, but . . . what if he can save the day and find a way past worried all by himself? This engaging story speaks to kids’ emerging emotional intelligence skills and helps them learn to manage worry.

Alison Green Myers’s middle grade debut, A Bird Will Soar, has been picked up by Dutton in a two-book deal. This novel follows a boy named Axel and the unusual collection of adults in his makeshift family as they try to repair both a nearby eagles’ nest and their own home in the aftermath of a storm. Publication is set for fall 2021.

Lindsay Bandy’s debut novel, Nemesis and the Swan, released on October 27 from Blackstone Books. The book follows nineteen-year-old Helene, from her prison cell in revolutionary Paris, recalling the events that led her to choose between following in her parents’ unforgivable footsteps or abandoning the man she loves. Despite her world of privilege, Helene is inspired early on by the radical ideas of her progressive governess. Though her family tries to intervene, the seeds of revolution have already been planted in Helene’s heart, as are the seeds of love from an unlikely friendship with a young jeweler’s apprentice. Helene’s determination to find true love is as revolutionary as her attempt to unravel the truth behind a concealed murder that tore her family apart.

The Secret Life of the Sloth, written by Laurence Pringle and illustrated by Kate Garchinsky, is now available for preorder. A year in the life of a sloth is revealed in this stunningly illustrated nonfiction picture book, the latest in the popular The Secret Life series. Meet Perezoso, a brown-throated three-fingered sloth who lives in a rainforest habitat. Young readers will be fascinated as they learn all about her life—how she searches for food, keeps herself safe from prey, and gives birth to a baby. Kate’s gorgeous, realistic illustrations celebrate these intriguing creatures, and the story is filled with important facts and terms. The Secret Life of the Sloth will release in April 2021 from Boyd’s Mills Press.

If you have good news to share, please send it to epa-ara@scbwi.org to be included in next month’s Member News column.

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A Café Chat with Author Lindsay Bandy and the Eastern PA SCBWI Regional Team

Today at the EasternPennPoints virtual café, the regional team of Eastern PA SCBWI has gathered to celebrate the release of Nemesis and the Swan, a young adult novel written by our co-Regional Advisor Lindsay Bandy. Joining Lindsay at the café are co-Regional Advisor Rona Shirdan, Illustrator Coordinator Berrie Torgan-Randall, and Assistant Regional Advisor Laura Parnum. 

Laura: It’s great that we could all be here virtually today. Does everyone have something good to drink or snack on?

Berrie: A chai latte for me.

Rona: I’m having decaf English Breakfast tea with honey and an almond croissant.

Lindsay:  I’m enjoying some coffee with a “few” sour cream donut holes. I know I should say I’m eating something French and fancy, but the heart wants what the heart wants.

Laura: And I’ve got my decaf lotus blossom green tea. So, Lindsay—congratulations on the release of your debut novel, Nemesis and the Swan! Besides chatting with us, how are you celebrating today?

Lindsay: Thank you! I’ll be celebrating virtually tonight at 7:00 p.m. EST on Facebook Live with my agent, Cate Hart, and her local Nashville bookstore, Parnassus Books. You’re all invited! It would make me so happy if you popped in to ask questions or say hello. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/parnassusbooks1/posts/3742478005776814

I’m also having a drop-in, socially distanced launch party at my favorite Parisian-style café in Lancaster, Rachel’s Café and Creperie, on Saturday, November 7 from 1:00-3:00 p.m. If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you. We could bump elbows! And I promise, the Nutella hot chocolate alone is worth the trip. https://www.facebook.com/events/1754337728075937/

Berrie: Nemesis and the Swan is set in Paris. Did you go to Paris to check out your setting? What sources do you find the most helpful when studying about a place and the culture? Any suggested sources to look for historical resources when you are writing historical fiction? 

Lindsay: I visited Paris briefly in college and absorbed as much of the atmosphere and vibe as I could. By the time I started writing Nemesis and the Swan, I was home with two small children and had to rely on my old-school scrapbook, the library, and of course, the wonders of the Internet.

To be sure that I really understood the events leading to the Revolution, I read Simon Schama’s Citizens and Christopher Hibbert’s The Days of the French Revolution. To immerse myself in the culture and time, I watched History Channel specials, checked out art history books from the library, and scoured images for interior design and fashion details. I read first-person accounts from the period, as well as various works of fiction set during the time period.

I really believe that your best tool as a researcher is intense curiosity. Look everywhere. Fact check. Immerse yourself in your setting in every way possible – walk the streets (at least via Google Earth), eat the food, smell the perfume, touch the fabric, listen to the music, feel the feels! Then, you’ll never have to worry about paragraphs that read like an encyclopedic info dump.

Rona: While you were doing the historical research for your book, what did you find most difficult? Most interesting?

Lindsay: The most difficult thing for me was the language barrier. My French is pretty sketchy, so I had to rely on English translations and some patient fluent friends. The most interesting part was discovering the Lover’s Eye jewelry!

Laura: Can you give us a little teaser? Tell us something fascinating about your main character.

Lindsay: One of my favorite things about Helene is that she really finds herself while writing and illustrating for children. She has to change her name and pretend to be a man to do it, but the work and the children transform her in a special way that I think all of us here at SCBWI can relate to.

Berrie: What was the inspiration for your up-and-coming novel, Inevitable Fate? Were you inspired by a photograph like Ransome Riggs, author of the Miss Peregrine series?

Lindsay: Yes! I was searching the Internet for tattoo designs to cover a scar on my arm, and because I’m a vintage girl, I started researching tattoo history. I came across a portrait of Maude Wagner, the first female tattoo artist, and the defiant confidence in her gaze captivated me. In a time when women couldn’t even vote, female tattoo artists and the women they inked took ownership of their bodies. 

This was meaningful to me as I chose to turn a scar I didn’t ask for into something beautiful, and it really got me thinking about the things we can and can’t change in life. That’s how the Three Sisters of Fate found their way into the story, and the rest developed from there!

Rona: Many of our members are new writers. What advice do you have for new novelists to stay organized during the writing process? What worked for you?

Lindsay: Umm, obsession? Ha! I’ve never had an organizational system, per se . . . I’m one of those people who has stuff everywhere, but I almost always remember where I put it. I create a new document for my WIP monthly, and scribble ideas, questions, and possibilities by hand in a journal. I also make a lot of flow charts on oversized construction paper. I like the pretty colors.

Lately, as I’ve been working on some more complex, multi-timeline projects, I’ve developed a more visual system of organization that works well for me. In our spare room, I have ribbons strung all over the walls. With mini clothespins, I clip plot cards, old photographs, maps, and other important info. This way, I can step back and visualize the story beats, the flow of the chapters, and the faces and places in my story world. I have a separate backstory timeline for things that happened before the story began. This way, it’s also easy to move things around when I realize something isn’t working.

Berrie: Congratulations on your WOOP (Work in Progress) grant from SCBWI. How do you plan on using the grant for your research?

Lindsay: Thank you so much! I was so surprised and excited to receive the grant for my work in progress, Doublethink. The story is set in post-war Germany and follows the teen years of two Polish orphans who were stolen by Nazis—one of whom has DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) due to trauma. 

I’m planning to use some of the grant money to attend the EntitleDID to Life conference in San Francisco in 2021. This will allow me to learn from top-notch experts and spend time getting to know more individuals who live with the condition in person. It’s very important to me to honor the amazing people with DID who are sharing their personal experiences with me and reading my drafts, so I’m also using the grant money to compensate them for their help. Their stories have been so misrepresented and misunderstood, and I hope to make them proud and truly seen. 

Laura: Happy book birthday, Lindsay! We can’t wait to read Nemesis and the Swan!

Lindsay: Thank YOU! I owe so much to this SCBWI community, and it means the world to me to celebrate with you. I couldn’t have done it without you, so please eat a donut (or two) with me today!

Lindsay Bandy writes historical and contemporary young adult fiction as well as poetry. She lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with her husband, two daughters, and two cats, and currently serves as the co–regional advisor of the Eastern Pennsylvania region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. You can learn more about Lindsay and her books at www.LindsayBandyBooks.com, or say hi on social media:

On Instagram @LindsayFisherBandy https://www.instagram.com/lindsayfisherbandy/

On Twitter @Lindsay_Bandy https://twitter.com/Lindsay_Bandy

Facebook at Lindsay Bandy Books https://www.facebook.com/LindsayBandyBooks

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Writer = Oak, by Anthony D. Fredericks

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A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks

Writer = Oak

“Money grows on the tree of persistence.”

—Japanese proverb

Two weeks ago, my wife and I journeyed to Pymatuning State Park in northwestern Pennsylvania to spend a week camping amidst a mélange of turning leaves, scampering critters, sun-splotched trees, and meandering streams. We woke to the sounds of twittering birds, watched dazzling sunsets over the western sky, and took pause from the cacophony of 24/7 news and the fever of a presidential campaign.

We also hiked over rickety footbridges, through palisades of deciduous trees, around the perimeter of rustic lakes, and down sinuous trails. One day, less than a quarter mile below the dam that impounds the 17,088-acre Pymatuning Reservoir, we found the tree.

It was a striking oak—one that had been grasping the bank of the Shenango River for more than 150 years (by our estimate). Its impressive constitution survived a devastating flood in 1913, endured many generations of punishing winters, and stood firmly rooted against all manner of environmental threats. It was resolute.

I was enthralled by its stature as well as its arboreal determination. Here was an organism that had weathered a plethora of challenges and an abundance of life-threatening events. Yet, for approximately a century and a half, it was staunch against natural forces determined to topple it into the river. It did what it needed to do to remain true to its “tree-ness.” Throughout its life, it bent, it shook, and it most certainly swayed, but, metaphorically speaking, it never lost sight of what it had to do to remain true to the heritage of oaks.  

In my admiration of this botanical titan, I was reminded of one of the signature dynamics of authorial success—persistence. The dictionary defines “persistence” as the ability to go on resolutely or stubbornly in spite of opposition, importunity, or warning. Here was a tree that had survived, indeed flourished, due to environmental persistence. As authors, our professional survival may also be due to the degree to which we embrace persistence as a regular construct of our literary sojourns.

For me, persistence is simply a matter of putting my butt in a chair, my fingers on the keyboard, and my mind in gear . . . every single day! It is a commitment to authorship that demands daily attention and daily commitment. It’s often a matter of telling my mind that if I want to be a writer I have to practice writing . . . every single day! No excuses, no apologies, no exemptions. After all, an oak tree does not survive for fifteen decades by taking “time off.” It survives because of its persistence against the elements . . . every single day!

An oak tree is the embodiment of persistence.

Consider that it’s not the actual words we commit to the page; it’s the persistence that drives them to the computer screen that matters. It’s the obligation to those words that gives them power. It’s knowing that those words were selected because they were faithfully edited, thoughtfully manipulated, carefully massaged, clearly rewritten, and patiently crafted with determination and attention. Words are merely assemblies of letters; their strength comes from the dedication of the writer who chose them, constructed them, and presented them for others to read.

Our ultimate success as purveyors of children’s literature comes from extended and sufficient preparation, extended and sufficient homework, and extended and sufficient time. The more we invest in our respective writing careers, the more we reap. On the other hand, if undisciplined, our tenure as a writer may be short. We gain that discipline by making writing a regular, normal, and persistent habit. Anything less and we may (figuratively) topple over.

Are you an oak?

To think about . . .

“There is no magic in achievement. It’s really about hard work, choices, and persistence.”

—Michelle Obama

“Persistence is the twin sister of excellence. One is a matter of quality; the other, a matter of time.”

—Marabel Morgan

“A published author was once an unpublished author who didn’t quit submitting.”

—Lee Masterson

“Patience, persistence, and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.”

—Napoleon Hill

“A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.”

—James Watkins


Tony is an award-winning writer of more than 50 children’s books. He’s also authored the book: Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published (https://amzn.to/2GWBEpW).  [“This is one of the best books I’ve seen on the market for how to get started from the beginning to end.”  —5-star review]

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The Need for Underrepresented Creators with #OwnVoices/#LivedExperience, by Laura Parnum

The Need for Underrepresented Creators with #OwnVoices/#LivedExperience*

Diverse Books and #OwnVoices/#LivedExperience are not part of a trend in children’s book publishing. They are part of a movement. The children’s book community is recognizing that young readers need more opportunities to have books that act as mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors (and now prisms). This concept was introduced by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop and has become well known in the children’s book industry. When children read, they learn about the world around them. What they read can influence how children view themselves and others and can impact their lives in many ways.

Representation Matters

When children see mostly characters from the dominant culture, it sends a message of who is valued in society. Likewise, when children don’t see characters like themselves in books, they feel undervalued. This applies to not only race but also ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and disability. As children’s book creators, we want to ensure that all children feel valued and that children learn to appreciate the many kinds of people that make up our world so that they can carry those values along with cultural competence into adulthood. When children only see themselves in books, they also receive an unrealistic view of the world in which they live.

The Importance of #OwnVoices/#LivedExperience

When you think of the 1995 movie Braveheart, which depicts the 13th century Scottish warrior William Wallace, an image of Wallace and his kinsmen charging into battle in kilts may immediately spring to mind. These kilts, however, did not exist before the 18th century. I’m sure a lot of research went into making the movie Braveheart, which ended up winning five Academy Awards, yet mistakes were made. Assumptions were made. The research was incomplete and, obviously, there was no one involved in making the film that had lived the experience of 13th century Scotland. But because of the popularity of this movie and the lack of more accurate representations in the media of the First War of Scottish Independence, we now immediately assume that William Wallace led his men into battle in tartan kilts.

Anachronisms like this can easily occur when depicting characters outside of our own time period, but more importantly, mistakes are often made when we create characters outside of our own cultures and communities. As a result, these inaccuracies can perpetuate stereotypes and lead to microaggressions and discrimination, which will cause harm to our readers. While we as creators strive to include more characters from underrepresented communities in children’s books, we must recognize the importance of true and accurate portrayals that can only come from lived experiences. This is why “Own Voices,” or children’s book creators with lived experiences, are so important.


We urge our members to learn more about #OwnVoices/#LivedExperience and the need for diverse books. In addition to regional webinars and workshops, SCBWI has recently made several FREE resources available for members. One of these is “Writing Identity Elements into our Stories” with authors David Bowles, Linda Sue Park, and S. K. Ali. This recording is only available until October 18, so hurry and watch it before it’s gone. You can also view a recording of “Sticks and Stones and the Stories We Tell,” in which prominent members of the children’s book community share their own experiences of the discrimination they’ve encountered in the publishing industry. Participants include Crystal Allen, Floyd Cooper, Pat Cummings, Lamar Giles, Rafael López, Meg Medina, Linda Sue Park, Christian Robinson, Shadra Strickland, and Lisa Yee.  

Additional free resources can be found here.

*Linda Sue Park encourages use of the term “Lived Experience” over “Own Voices” in the workshop above, and the SCBWI will be leaning into this term more going forward. 

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A Cafe Chat with Eastern PA SCBWI Social Media Coordinator Tom Uleau, by Berrie Torgan-Randall

Welcome back to the virtual EasternPennPoints Café. Our Illustrator Coordinator, Berrie Torgan-Randall, has invited Tom Uleau to chat at the café. Tom is an author/illustrator and is an active Eastern PA SCBWI member and volunteer. In fact, he is in charge of our social media presence. Inquiring minds want to know more about Tom and his suggestions for getting your name out there on social media.

Berrie: Hi, Tom. Welcome to the EasternPennPoints Café. Would you like a cup of coffee or maybe a sippy cup of milk? (Tom has three boys under the age of five.) 

Tom: HEY! I absolutely would like a sippy cup. Two of my boys are climbers with the grace of rhinoceros ballerinas, so it would probably make anything I’m drinking much safer. 

Berrie: Are you a first-thing-in-the-morning-before-the-kids-wake-up or an in-the-evening-after-you-have-read-ten-or-more-favorite-books-to-your-kids kind of artist? 

Tom: Yes. I’ll do some sketches at nap times, I’ll work in the car while they sleep in their seats, but the magic happens AFTER bedtime. My wife is a night shift nurse so I will have the baby monitors on next to my art battle station in my shop. You can actually hear them in some of my streams on YouTube. 

Berrie: Tell us about your art background and your favorite Eastern PA SCBWI events that you have attended.  

Tom: Art Background: I am, what do we say? Pre-published and un-agented? I’m those things. I post art every day on my social media pages along with stories to accompany them (most of the time). I have not missed a day in over 1730 days. My favorite event is FOR SURE illustrator day. Train rides, the Free Library of Philly, delivered lunch – I feel like a king of a castle those days. I’ve been to four so far? I went to the New York conference, I’ve gone to some writing events we’ve had, and our Picture Book Master Class, but Illustrator Day is my jam. 

Berrie: What is your advice for posting on social media? 

Tom: Easy-peasy. (1) Start. That’s the hardest part. TONS of our members tell me they have these accounts but don’t do anything with them, which is a shame and hurts my soul a little. (2) EVERYTHING is content. A drawing, a sketch, the fancy paper you like, the place you like to write, that weird thing on your desk that gave you an idea one time, a selfie at the art store . . . everything. (3) Likes and comments are NOT a barometer of your skills (that’s a tough one to overcome). Sometimes I even forget this. There are TONS of tips and tricks and things to try, but until you start they will get wasted. START! If you don’t know how . . . ask me! I’m super happy to help. It’s kinda my thing. 

Berrie: I heard that agents and editors like to follow certain hashtags to discover new talent. What hashtags do you use, and how can you find out what hashtags agents are viewing?

Tom: Oooh. Technical questions! Perfect!! The two big ones are #kidlit and #kidlitart. These are the royalty of hashtags in our field. Topical hashtags can’t hurt either as long as they relate to the content you are posting. What are agents looking for/at? Tons of stuff, I imagine. The trick is to follow them on Twitter and Instagram. Aside from posting what they may be specifically looking for for a project, they also attach themselves to social media events (think pitch events and art shares). They’ll have specific hashtags they use too.   

Berrie: I don’t know if you noticed, but there is pumpkin-spiced everything in stores these days. What are your favorite Fall or Halloween Instagram contests to join and what are the benefits of participating in an Instagram contest?

Tom: I am the most basic. I run on a very high concentration of pumpkin spice/allspice, then I ween myself off with gingerbread in the following months.

I actually have drawing prompts and challenges for every single month of the year. October is ESPECIALLY busy since the invention of Inktober, but some of the major ones are: 

  • #inktober
  • #Drawlloween
  • 24 Hour Comics Day (create 24 consecutive comic book pages in 24 hours – date varies)
  • #Drawtober
  • #Catober
  • #wildoctoberart (Zoe Keller’s wildlife-themed art challenge)
  • #INKTtober (Prompts with tattoos in mind)
  • #Creamtober (an assortment of prompts curated by @ladycreamy)
  • #Witchtober (witch-themed challenge)
  • #Monstober (monster-based themes)
  • #OCoctober (themes using your own characters [OC]) 
  • #Orctober (themes based on RPG and Orc stuff)
  • #Darktober (dark themes)
  • #Plastober (broken into daily AND weekly themes for ease)
  • #Spooktober
  • #Flufftober

There’s no lack of choice. The benefits can be huge in terms of getting followers and getting your name and art out in the wild in front of new eyes. Using these hashtags puts your content in these larger creative pools. 

Berrie: If you were to make a calendar of Instagram illustration contests what would it look like?  

Tom: It would look like three single typed pages of challenges. Weekly, biweekly, year long, random theme generators, critique groups, subreddits, or event-specific themed challenges. My “go-to” is r/sketchdaily, which has new themes and alternate themes posted every day with a pretty big community. (I’m a moderator there, full disclosure.)

Berrie: I have a confession, I don’t totally get Twitter. Can you explain what happens when you retweet and why Twitter might help you gain followers? 

Tom: Twitter is arguably more complicated than, say, Instagram or Facebook, so I feel you. Retweeting is like posting an inspirational quote, in that you didn’t come up with the quote but it shows you agree with it. The more likes, retweets, and quotes you get, puts you out there in “Twitter world” more. Once you start getting interactions outside of your group (people you already interact with or have direct connections with), the higher you rank in the algorithms, which in turn broadens your circle.

Berrie: Any other advice regarding social media for our illustrator members?

Tom: Yes. Post. WIPs, swatches, doodles, sketches, etc. (Don’t overdo it though. Outside of special events, try once every other day to start). Like and comment on other artists’ posts. That’s a free form of support that also gets you a little more exposure. Social media is a tool. It can be a network of connections to agents, publishers, other artists, and fans. It can also be an informal living portfolio. DON’T BUY FOLLOWERS. It’s not worth it. I want to stress again, likes, comments, retweets are NOT a metric to measure your talents and skills. Tons of likes and comments are awesome and great but they can be fleeting. Likewise, not enough likes and comments doesn’t mean you are no good and your work is terrible. It will most likely (almost certainly) take time and effort. 

Berrie: Thanks so much, Tom.

Tom: Can I get a refill on my sippy cup before I go? 

Berrie: Yes. Would you like a pumpkin spiced latte, spiked cider, or a ginger beer? 

Tom Uleau, aka Mr. Tom, is an un-agented and pre-published but heavily bearded illustrator-author. He is the social media coordinator for the Eastern PA SCBWI region. His hidden talent is posting art every day. Every. Day. For the past 1730 consecutive days he has posted original art and stories on his social media accounts. Aside from that, he has three tiny humans, he runs a print shop, and is a former professional yo-yo demonstrator. You can find Tom and all of his daily art posts on Instagram (@itsmr.Tom), Twitter (@itsmistertom), Facebook (it’s Mr Tom), and on his website (itsmrtom.com).

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Upcoming Webinar with Critiques Available – A New Perspective: Revision as a Collaborative Experience, with Meg Eden


A New Perspective: Revision as a Collaborative Experience

with Meg Eden

Monday, October 19, 2020 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time

Once we’ve written our story, it can seem like our ideas and messages should be clear to our readers. However, not all readers get from the page what we intend, and it can take iterations of revision to get to the heart of a novel. Writing and editing can feel like a solitary journey, but it takes a village to bring a book to its fullest potential.

But how do we find our village? And how do we parse through the village’s range of thoughts on our work? In this workshop, we’ll discuss methods for shedding new light on your work (from dissecting favorite books to giving and receiving feedback), the importance of sensitivity readers, as well as questions to consider when deciding what to do with feedback you receive. We’ll also conduct exercises to help identify (or rediscover) the heart and focus of your novel.

Cost: $15 for members; $25 for nonmembers.

To register click here.

Can’t make the live session? The recording will be available for two weeks following the event.

A limited number of written critiques are available at an additional cost of $45.

Manuscript Critiques: Submissions are due on or before Monday, October 19, 2020. Format your work in 12-point font, with one-inch margins, and double spacing.

Please include your name on every page of your work as a header or a footer, as well as identifying information on page one (first and last name, email address, title, genre).

Please save your file as Webinar Faculty Last Name_Your Last Name_TITLE OF MANUSCRIPT as a PDF or DOC or DOCx.

Example: Eden_Strocchia_PURPLE CARROTS

Then send your file to Kristen Strocchia at epawebco@gmail.com. The subject should read Webinar Faculty Last Name_Your Last Name_TITLE OF MANUSCRIPT (same as saved file name).

For picture books: Send one full manuscript.

For chapter books, MG, YA: Send up to 10 pages of your manuscript, plus a one-page synopsis. (Include synopsis in the same document; please don’t send two documents.)

Get to know your instructor:

Meg Eden’s work is published or forthcoming in magazines including Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Crab Orchard Review, RHINO and CV2. She teaches creative writing at Anne Arundel Community College. She is the author of five poetry chapbooks, the novel Post-High School Reality Quest (2017), and the poetry collection Drowning in the Floating World (2020). She runs the Magfest MAGES Library blog, which posts accessible academic articles about video games (https://super.magfest.org/mages-blog). Find her online at www.megedenbooks.com or on Twitter at @ConfusedNarwhal.

To register click here.

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Member News — September 2020

Member News is a monthly feature on the EasternPennPoints blog. We want to celebrate our members’ good news and help spread the word far and wide. Send us your children’s book–related news—book deals, releases, awards, author or illustrator events (signings, launch parties, appearances), etc. If you’d like your news to be included in next month’s column, please e-mail Laura Parnum at epa-ara@scbwi.org before October 20.

Here’s some exciting news from members in our region this month:

Jan Zauzmer’s debut children’s book, If You Go with Your Goat to Vote, was released on September 22—just in time for the election. Filled with Andrew Roberts’s irresistibly cute illustrations, this picture book shows thirteen adorable animal families voting by mail and at the polls—and even includes a sheet of fun “I Voted” stickers. From a kid chewing over the ballot, to a bunny hopping to the polling place, to a night owlet staying up late to watch the returns, If You Go with Your Goat to Vote aims to inspire kids to grow up to vote!


Author Jen Bryant will be launching her new book Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball, illustrated by Frank Morrison (Abrams, October 2020) with a virtual launch party through Children’s Book World on October 6 at 7:00 p.m. Above the Rim is the story of Elgin Baylor, Hall of Fame-basketall player and civil rights advocate. One of the first professional African-American players, he inspired others on and off the court. But when traveling for away games, many hotels and restaurants turned Elgin away because he was Black. One night, Elgin had enough and staged a one-man protest that captured the attention of the press, the public, and the NBA. For details on joining the book launch, click here.


Author Kim Briggs, writing as K.B. Anne, is celebrating the completion of her YA series The Goddess Chronicles. She released Oak Moon at the end of August, and the final book, Storm Moon, releases this week. This six-book series culminates with Gigi and her friends facing off against witches, werewolves, an evil faerie, a manipulative god, and a one-eyed giant with the power to turn all he gazes upon to stone, all while trying to save her best friend and—well, the world. For more information, go to https://www.kbanne.com/thegoddesschroniclesbykbanne.


If you have good news to share, please send it to epa-ara@scbwi.org to be included in next month’s Member News column.

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