A Book Launch Event for Wendy Greenley’s Lola Shapes the Sky


Please join EPA member Wendy Greenley on Saturday, March 23, 2019, at the Barnes & Noble in Montgomeryville, PA, to celebrate the release of her picture book Lola Shapes the Sky, illustrated by Paolo Domeniconi, published by Creative Editions. Wendy will be sharing her book during the 11:00 a.m. story time, with craft time to follow. If you can’t make it to story time, she will be available to meet anyone who stops by and to sign books until 2:00 p.m. Everyone is invited to join the party, so please bring your children and book-loving/writing friends. Her book debuted during February’s World Read Aloud Day with school Skype visits. She will also be appearing at The Big Blue Marble’s Kid’s Lit Fest in Philadelphia in April, NJ nErD Camp in May, and the Chesapeake Children’s Book Festival in June.

ABOUT THE BOOK: Lola Shapes the Sky embraces everyone’s magical experience of looking up and imagining whimsical silhouettes, with the timeless theme of supporting what makes us each unique. “Until Lola comes along, all of the clouds are busy making weather, as clouds do. Scolded by Thor, Lola wants to fit in, but instead of making shade, rain, and snow, she makes fantastic imaginative cloud shapes,” according to Greenley.  The book released to bookstore shelves on March 12 and is available wherever books are sold.

ZnXEJ6ue_400x400ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Wendy Greenley doesn’t mind if you say she has her head in the clouds. With her upcoming picture book debut, she’s on cloud nine. Her eclectic interests led her to be an ice cream scooper, microbiologist, attorney, Cub Scout leader, Art Goes to School volunteer, and public relations for a dog rescue. Connect with Wendy  at www.wendygreenley.com, and on Facebook and Twitter @wendygreenley.

The Montgomeryville Barnes & Noble is located in Montgomery County at 1271 Knapp Road, North Wales, PA 19454.

Posted in Book Launch Party, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Cafe Chat with New York Times Best-Selling Author Lisa Maxwell, by Laura Parnum


Today at the Eastern Penn Points Café Laura is joined by Lisa Maxwell, author of the New York Times Best Seller The Last Magician. Lisa will be joining our faculty at our annual Pocono Retreat in April (for more information on the retreat click here).

Laura: Hi, Lisa! Thanks so much for stopping by the Eastern Penn Points Café. It’s great to have you here. What can we get you to drink?

coffee and cakeLisa: Coffee with cream would be great.

Laura: Would you like anything to munch on to go with that?

Lisa:  I mean, you can’t go wrong with cake, right?

Laura: Coming right up! We’re very excited that you’ll be joining us at our annual Pocono Retreat in April. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ll be presenting there?

Lisa: I’ll be doing a couple of presentations. Right now, I’m planning on my keynote on persevering in this really tough industry. I’ll be talking a little about my own experience and giving attendees some ideas for how they can keep going toward (or on) the path to publication. And for my breakout, I’ll be talking about raising the stakes in your fiction, especially with character and plot.

Last MagicianLaura: I’m looking forward to both of those presentations. Tell us about the moment you found out The Last Magician hit the New York Times Best Seller list.

Lisa: I was avoiding the internet. I wasn’t exactly sure when the list was announced, but I knew it was on a Wednesday. There had been a bunch of buzz on release day, and I didn’t want to get my hopes up—it still seemed too impossible to think that my little book could make that kind of splash. My editor called and she had the entire editorial staff on the phone, and it was just kind of unbelievable.

Laura: Congratulations! What did you do to celebrate?

Lisa: We went out on a big progressive dinner to some of our favorite places in DC. It was great.

Laura: That sounds amazing. Do you have any advice for querying writers?

Lisa: First, I’d say don’t query until you’re done with the book. Be sure that you’re ready to move on to something else, rather than still wanting to tweak things here and there. You have to be ready to send it away and let it go. Then I’d say you really need to do your homework. You need to treat querying like a job: do research about what a good query letter looks like, research agents and what/who they represent. You need to write a really strong query letter and let other people read it before you send it.

Laura: What can your readers look forward to seeing from you next?

Lisa: Right now, I’m working on the final book in The Last Magician series. I also have a middle grade that should be coming out in the next year or so.

Laura: Okay, get ready for flash favorites. What is your favorite . . .

dolphins-378217__480Ice cream flavor: coconut
Month of the year: June
Fictional place to visit: Hogwarts
Actual place to visit: Anna Maria Island
Childhood Halloween costume: Jem!
Sea creature: Dolphin

Laura: Whew! Thanks so much for stopping by the Eastern Penn Points Café. We are so excited to see you in April at the annual Eastern PA SCBWI Pocono Retreat.

Lisa: Thanks so much for having me! I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone at the retreat!

Lisa+Dunick-Outdoors-15-EditLisa Maxwell is the New York Times Best-Selling author of The Last Magician. The book is being translated into ten languages and has been sold in eleven territories. Her other books for Young Adults include the award-winning Unhooked, as well as the critically acclaimed Sweet Unrest and Gathering DeepShe has a PhD in English and is a professor at a community college outside of D.C. She drinks way too much coffee and has a soft spot for loud music and fast cars. When she’s not teaching or writing, you can probably find her catching a live band or going on adventures with her husband and two boys.

Website: www.lisa-maxwell.com

Instagram: @lisamaxwellYA

Twitter: @lisamaxwellya


Posted in Cafe Chat, Interviews, Pocono Retreat, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Café Chat with Literary Agent Marie Lamba, by Laura Parnum


I recently had the very lovely pleasure of chatting with Marie Lamba at the Eastern Penn Points Café. Marie is an author as well as a literary agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency and will be joining our faculty and offering critiques at the 2019 Pocono Retreat. More information about the retreat can be found here.

Laura: Hi, Marie. Thanks so much for joining me at the Eastern Penn Points Café. What can we get you to drink?

Marie: Hi! So happy to hang out with you. Yeah—a decaf cappuccino is awesome. I so don’t need caffeine . . . I’m kind of naturally zingy.

chocolate-4002990__480Laura: And anything to snack on?

Marie: Dark chocolate, always. Don’t mind caffeine from that!

Laura: Ooh, let’s get a giant plate of dark chocolate to share!

So, you are an author as well as an agent. How do you juggle both careers while also attending author events, conferences, workshops, and more?

Marie: In some ways the two really dovetail. Being a writer informs how I deal with my clients and helps me anticipate their concerns and needs. Being an agent informs how to target my writing. Finding time for both? Well, that’s tricky. Agenting involves a lot of putting out fires, whereas writing, unless you have a deadline, can easily be shoved aside till later. It’s a balancing act for sure, but making my weekends my own really helps with the writing part of things. And being hyper organized and obsessed with finishing what I start is key on all fronts. Also, I have a different desk for each!

green-green-front-coverLaura: What have you learned as an agent that has been most valuable to you as an author?

Marie: That you should always be working on the next thing. You want a steady flow of manuscripts. Keeping focused on that is great for your career AND your head space. Send the work out to your agent, or through queries, but always keep creating other stuff while that goes on. It’ll move your writing forward AND impress agents too!

Laura: What makes you perk up when reading a submission?

Marie: Confidence and voice. The kind of story that grabs my hand and pulls me in so I forget that I’m reading and I believe I’m truly within that author’s world.

Laura: Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ll be presenting at the Pocono Retreat?

Marie: I’m going to be talking about picture book pitfalls. I see a lot of repeated mistakes in picture book manuscripts that I think really hold back some potentially solid stories. By helping writers spot these in their own works, and offering possible fixes, I’m hoping writers might have some aha moments that will propel them ahead.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000032_00050]Laura: And now for something fun: In your book Drawn, the main character is transported back in time to the fifteenth century. If you were transported back in time and could choose three things to bring with you, what would you choose?

Marie: Wow, this is a tough one! Hmm. I’d say a medical kit full of first aid and basic medicines, first off. In Drawn, my heroine saves her love’s life with the help of one of those tiny first aid purse packs, so . . .  Also an applicable history book so I can anticipate what’s what . . . And a great set of running shoes so I can escape the mobs when they think I’m a witch due to having the other two items!


Laura: Sounds like a solid plan. Thanks so much for chatting with me, Marie. We’re looking forward to seeing you at the Pocono Retreat in April!

Marie: Me too! I just want to add that many moons ago I attended the Pocono Retreat as an aspiring writer. It means so much to be coming back and sharing this weekend with you all.

Marie LambaMarie Lamba (marielamba.com) is author of the picture book Green Green (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2017), of the upcoming picture book A Day So Gray (Clarion, Fall 2019), and of the young adult novels What I Meant . . . (Random House), Over My Head, and Drawn. Her articles have appeared in more than 100 publications, and she’s a frequent contributor to Writer’s Digest. She has worked as an editor, an award-winning public relations writer, and a book publicist. As a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in NYC (jdlit.com), Marie represents picture book writers and illustrators, middle grade, YA and adult fiction, plus memoir. You can follow her on Twitter @marielamba, and like her Facebook page: Marie Lamba, Author.

Posted in Cafe Chat, Interviews, Pocono Retreat, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Café Chat with Editor Eileen Robinson, by Heather Pierce Stigall


Eastern PA SCBWIs very own critique group coordinator and meet & greet coordinator, Heather Pierce Stigall, recently caught up with editor and publisher Eileen Robinson here at the café. We are so excited to have Eileen on our faculty for the 2019 Pocono Retreat. Eileen will be leading two workshops as well as providing critiques at the retreat. For more information or to sign up, click here.

Heather: Welcome to the Eastern Penn Points Café! We’re so happy you’ll be joining us for our upcoming Pocono Retreat. You have an impressive resume. Can you tell us a little about the path that led you to children’s publishing?

Eileen: Thank you so much! It was kind of an accident. I was actually trying to get into magazine publishing but couldn’t land a job and so I was temping, hoping something would come along. One day I got a call from the agency about a job at a doctor’s office so I went. It was an awful day. I was suffering from a migraine and had to decipher a doctor’s handwriting to enter into the computer. I jumped up and called an agency that I was with that specialized in jobs in publishing and said, “Get me out of here please,” (and mind you, I had never left a temp job). The woman said, “We have a position in the marketing department at Scholastic.” I said, “I’ll take it!” I was there the next day! Now the thing about this story is I had no idea what Scholastic was about. I didn’t remember their books or book club magazines from my childhood. I just knew it was book publishing and I loved books (though my heart was still set on magazines). I also had no idea the job had been with the temp agency for three months with no response and the woman’s position that I filled was leaving the very next day! Was it meant to be? reycrafts-books-logoAnd, I had no idea that I would become an editor there and it would lead to a long career. And now I own a publishing company, and in addition am helping an educational publisher build a new trade division—Reycraft Books. And despite all this, I still dream of magazines . . .

Heather: What a happy accident! Currently you are an editorial consultant at F1rst Pages. Can you tell us about what you offer at F1rst Pages?

Eileen: I help authors work on their craft. I show you your strengths and discuss the challenges in your story and your writing (and writing career—if you want one). I look at your manuscripts with an eye on the market—as all editors must do—but encourage you to find your voice and tell that story to a child, tween, or teen in a way that would speak to them. I try to help you to work with your fears and explore that in your writing so that the emotion—that crucial element in connecting the protagonist with the reader—comes through. I don’t promise publishing. No editor can do that or should. But I aim for the story to be better than when it came to me and for you to leave with the courage to continue to revise and put it out there when it’s ready.

Heather: You also partner with Harold Underdown (who was a faculty member at our Pocono Retreat last year) at Kid’s Book Revisions. Can you tell us about your role at KBR?

Eileen: My role is similar to what I do as an independent editor. It’s just that Harold and I have teamed up together to provide a broader framework. It’s very unique because not only have we put together these workshops and webinars that focus on different elements of revision, we often take manuscripts, working on the same one, so not only do you get the benefit of two editors on one story, but you get to see how editors agree and disagree, and you can take all of that and determine your own path. We focus on revision because we believe that’s where the real work and fun begins. One key thing we want to accomplish with authors is helping them to create their own toolbox, or add to it, so that they have the confidence to edit themselves . . . so they have the confidence to move scenes around, experiment with different ways to find their voice as well as the voices in the story, to play with plot and re-examine character by stepping out of their comfort zones. To look at the way things are said, the way lines of text move across the page—the flow, the rhythm—and most importantly, to not be afraid to tear it all down and build it back up again.

Heather: As if you don’t do enough, you are a publisher too. Move Books. Can you tell us a little about that?

Move BooksEileen: Yes, I publish books targeted to boys ages 8-12. Why that niche? Because I recognized many years ago, while working on many other books in-house, that there was a hole. And my son was a reluctant reader, and it unnerved me because I couldn’t imagine a life without stories—in book form. I could go into statistics about boys and reading, but I won’t. I’ll just say, like you were drawn to writing probably in part because you have something to say to the world, to children, or this is your way of leaving a footprint—to say, “I was here and I made a difference to someone”—I, too, am trying to do the same.

Heather: As a picture book writer, I’m looking forward to attending your “Picture Book Revision Master Class,” and I see you will also be offering a Master Class for MG and YA writers. Can you give us a hint about what we will learn in your workshop sessions?

Eileen: I’ll be showing you how to look at your writing/story from different perspectives, get you out of your comfort zone. It’s not about you. It’s about your audience. We tend to forget that because we are adults. We sometimes feel like we are being irresponsible in some way if we are not providing some sort of clear lesson instead of letting the characters grow and figure it out for themselves—and letting our audience do the same. We’ll have lots of hands-on work because “doing” is the best way to see things differently, so bring that manuscript or be prepared to start something new!

Heather: Now I’m even more excited to attend your workshop! You have experience giving critiques at conferences and will be providing critiques to Retreat participants who sign up for them. Can you share any tips on how to receive a critique?


  1. Be open. Remember that you want to get a fresh eye on your work. You’ve been immersed in it for so long. It’s your baby and it’s difficult sometimes to even think of letting that baby out of your sight, or putting it into someone else’s hands, especially for criticism. And that’s the thing—it’s not criticism. It’s guidance, it’s expertise, and it’s also, in some ways, an opinion. You have to let go if you want to grow.
  2. Why are you writing books for children/teens? Where did this particular story come from? What’s beneath the surface? Not necessarily what’s your goal. We are always told to think in terms of our goals. For now, just remember what brought you to this moment. What brought you to meet me? What’s that story behind the story? That core reason is what’s going to keep you going when you feel like you don’t want to do this anymore.
  3. Be honest. What do you need help with? Tell me the one thing you might not want to say out loud because you think it makes you sound like a failure. These are the things that hold us back (and our characters).
  4. Have fun. I’m not judge and executioner. I’m here to help you. Despite what you may think about editors—that we are looking to weed you out. Yeah, well, lots of folks want to be writers and so we’ve got piles of manuscripts, and we can’t publish them all . . . however, what we really want is to lay back, put our feet up, and become so immersed that we forget it’s a manuscript, because it speaks to us and we know it will speak to kids. And I enjoy helping writers get there. And since I am also a publisher, I come at this from many different angles.

Heather: Excellent advice! I can say from personal experience that anyone who has scheduled critique with Eileen will not be disappointed.

Okay, it’s time for some lightning round questions. Whats your favorite . . .

Outlet? Massages and high-stakes bingo

Indulgence? Chocolate, chocolate, and did I say chocolate?

Judy BlumeChildhood book? Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Thing to look forward to? The lives my son, nephews, and niece will lead, and other younger members of my family now out in the world, building their dreams

Recently published picture book? Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, Drawn Together by Minh Lê, and The Remember Balloons by Jessie Oliveros (sorry, had to have three)

Styx MaloneMiddle grade novel? Besides the ones I’ve published? LOL. The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon, Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina, and My Year in the Middle by Lila Quintero Weaver

Young adult? Girls on the Line by Jennie Liu

(And, note, I’m sure by the time I see everyone I’ll have others.)

Piece of writing advice? Experiment:

  • Put a character in a different setting.
  • Give your characters attributes you don’t like.
  • Start with the ending of your story instead of the beginning.
  • Read a little bit of everything, not just the genre and format in which you are writing.
  • Do something that makes you feel uncomfortable, something opposite of who you are. Now, how would your character feel doing that?

Heather: Thank you, Eileen! I really enjoyed chatting with you, and I look forward to seeing you in April in the Poconos!

Eileen: Thank you so much for having me. This was incredibly fun. And I can’t wait to hear about all of you!

Eileen-RobinsonPublisher/Editor Eileen Robinson loves the power of stories, and has acquired works from both the UK and US markets, working with authors from many cultures to find their voice. But her son’s reluctance to read is what led to Move Books, and the urge to help all boys experience the joy of reading, especially fiction. Working in children’s publishing for over 20 years, in-house and independently, she was an executive editor at Scholastic and editorial director/manager at Harcourt, she has gone on to partner with Harold Underdown in Kid’s Book Revisions doing workshops and webinars, help build Reycraft Books, a new trade imprint for Benchmark Education, and is currently an adjunct academic advisor for Rosemont College’s publishing program.

Websites: www.move-books.com and www.f1rstpages.com

Posted in Cafe Chat, Interviews, Pocono Retreat, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

An Interview with Art Director Jess Tice-Gilbert, by Virginia Law Manning

Jess Tice-Gilbert photo

Each year I kick off the first day of my summer camp letting the children explore different picture book formats—the traditional hardcover, the less expensive paperback, sturdy board books, and a wide variety of novelty books. Books with flaps, tabs, die-cuts, pop-ups, wheels, textures, sound effects, scratch-n-sniff, acetate layers, rattles, puppets, and even skeletons attached! The kids love this day, so when I read that Scholastic Art Director Jess Tice-Gilbert gives presentations on the topic, I thought HOW MUCH FUN!!! Novelty books are kid-pleasing and eye-catching, help develop important motor skills, and can be great gifts. Furthermore, Jess doesn’t just design novelty books, she is a skilled paper engineer and painter herself. For those illustrators who aren’t so sure novelty books are for them, Jess Tice-Gilbert also art directs . . . well . . . normal books. You know the kind with just pictures. 😁

Virginia: Jess, you describe yourself as a “military brat.” Where did you live, and is this when you became interested in art?

Jess: I was always interested in art. I was pretty much born with a crayon in my hand! My grandma saved some of my very early work, and I’m surprised at the depth perception I had as a four year old! Art was the one constant in my life and a hobby that I could take with me and do just about anywhere in the world. On a plane? I was probably coloring princess dresses. On a train? I was definitely drawing horses. In a car? Nothing—I get car sick! I do feel that since I’ve traveled the world and lived in Europe, the US, and the Caribbean, these places have left an impression on me and my artwork. For example, I know that my color palette is driven by my time in the islands. I absolutely love lush, bright colors. I mean, where else can you paint your house a bright shade of lavender and it doesn’t stand out?

Virginia: How about novelty books? Were you already interested in them before working with Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart?

MySnowGlob.jpgJess: This is going to sound crazy, but I don’t think I knew about pop-up books until I took the paper engineering class at Pratt Institute! I had just changed majors from graphic design to illustration and I had a hole in my schedule that I needed to fill. I saw the course “Paper Engineering” and thought to myself, “I like building things and I like math, I think this sounds cool!” (Yes, I know, math is cool? Who is this person??) As a kid, I played with Legos and K’nex a lot, as well as painting and drawing. Looking back, it was clear that I needed to find a path that was not only creative, but one where I built things. Pop-ups found me, and it all came together!

Virginia: It sounds like making pop-up books definitely requires a certain skill set. How about novelty books in general? Is a particular personality type drawn to working in novelty books?

Jess: I haven’t seen any particular personalities drawn to novelty books. But I do think you need to have certain qualities or tendencies. A bit meticulous and a bit crazy . . . okay, maybe a lot crazy.  You have to build and rebuild novelties a few times before they’re perfect. And once you start adding in artwork, things change again. (And then you build. And you rebuild. And you change the die lines . . . It goes on!) It can be a lot of tinkering after the initial design. I also think you need to have a basic grasp on math and be able to read die lines, especially if you’re going to illustrate novelties.

Virginia: I loved seeing your paintings on your website! Can you tell us a bit about your inspiration for the Cosmic Musings? Are you working on anything now?

Jess Tice Gilbert MoonJess: Thank you! I never intended to make a series of paintings. I don’t know what happened, but I had an idea to paint moon phases, as they kind of happen in the sky, but on one sheet of paper. And once I had finished the first moon painting, I made another, and then another, and then another until I had created 21 moon paintings. Once I stepped back, I realized that my love for the moon and the skies is something that I’ve always made time for—to stop and look at the sky. Because no matter what part of the world you’re in, you have the sky, the moon, and the stars above you. I’m still painting moon paintings, but I’m also exploring sunset/sunrise paintings as well as creating some pop-up cards.

Virginia: After working all day at Scholastic, do you still have energy for your own creative pursuits? Do you have any tricks you can share with our members who often work day jobs and write/illustrate at night?

Jess: This is a great question! I feel like I could do a whole other presentation on just this topic! There are days that I have the energy to come home and work, and there are days that I don’t. And you can’t beat yourself up over that. But I do think the main thing is to have passion. You really need to LOVE what you’re doing. And let me tell you, you won’t love every step of the way, because there are always parts of a project that just suck, BUT you have to love what you’re making. You have to enjoy the full process, even the parts that suck. You have to have the drive to do the work.

paper flowersAnother thing is to take care of yourself. I make sure to work out so that I’m not in pain sitting at a desk all day. I also take walks in the middle of the day so my brain can figure out design issues in the background. You (the general you!) need to figure out what makes you feel whole and recharged. Is it working out? Is it eating well? Is it going on a walk with your dog? Is it eating ice cream? We all have things that help recharge our batteries, you just have to find them.

Third—last one I promise—is a support system. Making sure your family and friends know that when you’re working, they need to leave you be. Or if you’re having a rough time with a project, that you have someone you can reach out to and maybe get a second opinion. Or just have someone cheering you on. Because writing and illustrating can be an isolating experience, and you get in your own head and in your own way. By having a support system, you’ll always have someone in your corner to help get you to the finish line. I have to give a shout-out to my husband, who is my main support system. He’s on the frontlines, cheering me on with every project (he’s actually cheering me on right now!) and making sure I not only finish the project, but that it’s the best that I can make.

Virginia: We can’t wait to see you at the Highlights Foundation! What are you most looking forward to at the Pocono Retreat?

Jess: I’m so excited to just be there and meet everyone! We all grew up with Highlights magazines, and it’s also so exciting to be visiting the Highlights Foundation. Everything is coming full circle!

Register and sign up for a critique with Jess Tice-Gilbert at the 2019 Pocono Retreat here.

Jess Tice-Gilbert is Associate Art Director at Cartwheel and Orchard Books, Scholastic. Jess is many things: an experienced designer, a paper engineer, an innovator, an artist, and a creator of publishing novelties. But, most of all, she considers herself a “military brat” who discovered a lifelong passion for the arts, thanks to her family’s numerous travels during her youth. It was in 2004 that her travels led her to New York, where she began an internship with pop-up book authors Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart. It wasn’t long before she was invited to join their studio full-time and contributed to their best-selling titles. During this time, she also headed up the Museum of Modern Art holiday card line for seven years, earning her studio—and herself—a bevy of prestigious awards. Today, you can find Jess’s work and keen eye for design under Scholastic’s Cartwheel and Orchard Books imprints where she spends her days as a full-time associate art director working on novelty and picture books. Jess lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two very demanding cats. Outside of work, she loves to paint in watercolors, try new recipes and cocktails, and is attempting to learn to surf.

Website: http://jesstice.com

Instagram: @ticeisnice

Twitter: @TiceisNice

Posted in Interviews, Pocono Retreat, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Café Chat with Assistant Editor Amanda Ramirez, by Laura Parnum


I recently had the opportunity to invite Amanda Ramirez to chat with me at the café. Amanda is an assistant editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and will be on our faculty at the 2019 Pocono Retreat in April. Details for the retreat can be found here.

Laura: Welcome to the Eastern Penn Points Café, Amanda. Come in, sit down, and give us your beverage order.

Amanda: Can I get a, uuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhh . . . medium caramel mocha iced coffee with milk?

baked-goods-1867459__480Laura: Absolutely! Any munchies?

Amanda: Can I have one of those flaky pastries with the chocolate bits in them that’s not exactly a croissant but it’s basically a croissant, only square? Pain au chocolat?

Laura: Coming right up! Now that we’re cozy in our booth, let’s find out all about you. Tell us a little bit about how you got to be an assistant editor at Simon & Schuster.

Amanda: My job kind of just fell into my lap, if you can believe that. I had been working as a Barnes & Noble bookseller for a while when a college friend of mine messaged me about an open editorial position in the children’s department at S&S, where she had been working in production at the time. So I applied and she forwarded my resume to HR and now here I am, somehow, two and a half years later.

Laura: What do you like to do in your free time?

Amanda: I spend a lot of time driving back and forth between my house on Long Island and my old college town in New Jersey, because my best friend lives there, so that takes up a good chunk of time. We don’t even really do anything when I get there—most times we just watch YouTube videos and take ages trying to decide where we want to go for dinner.

skates-2001796_1280I’m also always trying to find a new hands-on hobby. Currently, it’s mediocre ice skating, but during the summer it’s usually hiking or bike riding. I like to use my free time to unwind, so I try really hard not to do publishing-related things, unless I’m pleasure-reading.

Laura: Tell us about a soon-to-be-released title that you can’t wait for the world to read.

Amanda: Can I talk about two? I’m gonna talk about two and nobody can stop me.

Neither of these are “soon-to-be released” because publishing takes ages, but my first acquisition What if a Fish by Anika Fajardo is due out in Summer 2020. It’s a generational middle grade about a young boy named Edward “Little Eddie” Aguado who ends up spending the summer in Colombia with his half-brother Eduardo “Big Eddie” Aguado and his Abuela. It’s a story of family, identity, and all the things you can find at the end of a fishing line.

The second is tentatively titled Pepper Blouse and the Wicked Will by Briana McDonald, which is a middle-grade adventure about amateur sleuth Pepper Blouse and her summer spent solving the mystery of her great aunt’s suspicious death, and the mystery of her own developing feelings for girls. This one is due to pub fall 2020.

I’m super excited about both of these. They represent exactly what I love about books; they’re stories that reflect marginalized voices in situations that don’t revolve around their diversity, but instead highlight their differences so that young readers can see themselves as the heroes.

Laura: I saw on your wish list that you are interested in superhero stories. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Amanda: I’m consistently torn between persuasion and teleportation, because both are extremely useful, but one is decidedly cooler than the other.

Laura: Okay, are you ready for our lightning round? What’s the last book that made you . . . 

Undead Girl GangLaugh out loud: Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson

Sob out loud: Dear Sister by Alison McGhee, illustrated by Joe Bluhm

Jump up and down: Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Stay up past your bedtime: Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya

Laura: Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ll be presenting at the SCBWI Pocono Retreat?

Amanda: I will actually be doing an “ASK US ANYTHING: An Editor and an Agent” Q&A with Jenny Herrera from the David Black Agency! Conference goers will be able to ask us anything they’d like to know about what it takes to get published.

Laura: Thanks so much for stopping by the Eastern Penn Points Café. We can’t wait to see you in person at the Pocono Retreat.

Amanda: Thank you for having me! I can’t wait for the Pocono Retreat—it’s gonna be a blast!

AmandaAmanda Isabel Ramirez is an Assistant Editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and has worked with award-winning authors such as Neal Shusterman, Katherine Rundell, Tim Federle, and Andrew Smith. She is passionate about diverse, commercial literature from humorous YA to fanciful middle-grade adventures, as well as graphic novels. Prior to S&S, she was an editor at The Literary Review, a children’s bookseller, and a staff writer for multiple online lifestyle outlets. A native, Nuyorican Brooklynite, she currently lives on Long Island and takes a lot of naps. Learn more about what Amanda is looking for on Twitter: @AmandaIsA_Ram or on her website: amandaisabelramirez.com, and you can follow her on Instagram: @AmandaIsA_Ram


Posted in Cafe Chat, Interviews, Pocono Retreat, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

An Interview with Author-Illustrator Melissa Iwai, by Virginia Law Manning

Melissa Iwai photo

It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Brooklyn-based author-illustrator Melissa Iwai. I first met Melissa in 2015 and have been following her career and getting to know her ever since. Melissa is talented, humble, genuine, and supportive, so I knew she’d be a great addition to our Pocono Retreat faculty!

Virginia: Melissa, at our conference, we’ll have a mix of PAL members and SCBWI newcomers. Can you tell us a little about your first publishing experience?

Melissa: Thanks for asking! My first book, The Dog Around the Corner, was not actually a published book, but it is the first book I’d written/illustrated that was bound and made into the physical semblance of a book! I wrote it in 5th grade when I was ten. I had an amazing teacher, Mrs. Haselmo, who developed this children’s book project for the whole class. We wrote stories, edited them, divided the text on pages, inked the words, and drew pictures that went along with the text on each page. We also designed and illustrated covers. Then she laminated the pages and somehow bound everything into books with hardcovers and pasted end papers.

Virginia: Wow! What a great entry in to the world of publishing! Since then, you’ve enjoyed a successful career, illustrating more than 30 books over the past 20 years. I’m sure things have changed during that time, what would you say have been the greatest transformations in children’s publishing?

ThirtyMinutesOverOregonMelissa: The internet has drastically changed the way we show our work, promote ourselves and interact with our editorial teams. I started at a time when we lugged around physical portfolios and dropped them off at publishing houses, met in person with editors/art directors, and turned in pieces of original art. Some people still do turn in original art rather than digital art, and I think it’s common to meet with our team in person if we live in NY or nearby. But everything else is done online now. And there is the added responsibility for artists and authors to be active on social media and promote our own work in addition to the promotion our agents already do.

Virginia: I feel lucky SCBWI helps me stay on top of the changing industry. In fact, the organization has been nothing less than life-changing for me. What have been your most memorable SCBWI experiences?

Melissa: My most memorable SCBWI event was the first one I went to in Los Angeles when I was still in art school. I was taking Marla Frazee’s children’s book class at the time. She indirectly helped me find my agent in New York. Another major event was several years later, I was on a panel at the Society of Illustrators/SCBWI event in NY. It was my first public speaking experience and I thought I was going to pass out. Jerry Pinkney was the keynote speaker and I was in awe of meeting him! He was warm and friendly, and I was so impressed by how relaxed he seemed before giving his talk! I also met other author/artists there at the very beginning of their careers, and we are still friends to this day.

PizzaDayVirginia: You’ve written and illustrated some books—PIZZA DAY and SOUP DAY—and illustrated other writers’ manuscripts. Do you prefer working one way or the other? Do you have lots of ideas for more stories of your own?

Melissa: Both routes have their own challenges! Illustrating others’ manuscripts is what I’m more familiar with and what I did for ten years before writing my own. I love the opportunity to enter the story and interpret it in my own vision. Each story is unique, and I love approaching them this as such.

I do have many other ideas for stories of my own as well! Many have not sold, believe me. I recently did sell a manuscript that I am in the process of rewriting and figuring out the illustrations for; the project is in its nascent stages. Doing both the pictures and writing the text provide a different set of challenges. Because there aren’t the same parameters as having a text given to me, there are many more choices and decisions to be made. I usually write and sketch out my dummy at the same time, going back and forth between the images and text. I often begin with the images. So it’s a different process for me.

Virginia: Finally, I know you love spending time in the kitchen. Both illustrating and cooking/baking are creative hobbies. Do you see other similarities in the two? Do you have a favorite recipe you can share with us?


Melissa: They are definitely similar! Especially when I am creating a new recipe and experimenting, it is similar to creating a piece of visual art—a process of having inspiration and an idea of what I want to create, pulling together the materials I need to produce it, and then figuring out how to execute it. With both you are using disparate items (ingredients and art media) to create something entirely unique and entirely different from what you begin with. I love the chemistry that happens with cooking and baking. It’s magical the way applying heat to or pureeing ingredients completely changes its composition.

I’m working on a DIY Birthday book that involves a lot of cooking and creating art, and the overlap between the two is more pronounced here, visually. I have a lot of themed cakes and themed food, and I use ingredients to create edible representations of things like monster faces, castles, superheroes, etc.

Virginia: Have you been to the Highlights Foundation before? They sure have tasty food!

Melissa: I love the Highlights Foundation! I’ve been to three retreats there. The first two were with my family for the annual Highlights Magazine Illustrators Three Day Weekend. The last was a Hidden Picture retreat that was very small and intimate, and there were just a dozen artists there. And yes, the food is amazing there! I love the chef!

Here’s one of my favorite recipes I developed from my cooking blog, The Hungry Artist. It was also featured in CookingLight magazine (so it’s pretty healthy!) I hope you enjoy it! 

Grilled Portobello Mushroom Eggplant Parmesan Rounds


  • 4 Portobello mushroom caps, stems removed
  • 3 tablespoons virgin olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • Small eggplant sliced thinly, about 2 cups
  • ½ cup prepared marinara sauce
  • 4 oz. Sargento® Shredded Reduced Sodium Mozzarella Cheese
  • ½ oz. Sargento® Grated Parmesan & Romano Cheese
  • 4 slices vine ripened tomato
  • Basil leaves for garnish

Servings: 4


  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Salt sliced eggplant and let rest in colander for about 20 minutes while oven is heating. Rinse and pat eggplant slices dry. Brush with 1 tablespoon olive oil and arrange on baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes, flipping after 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile prepare mushroom caps. Wipe caps clean and then brush both sides with remaining olive oil. Sprinkle each side with salt and pepper and place on grill pan gill side down. Grill caps for about 2 ½ minutes on each side on high heat with grill pan covered with a lid.
  • Assemble rounds. Mix together the mozzarella and parmesan and divide mixture into two small bowls. Set aside. Spoon a tablespoon of sauce onto gill side of mushroom caps then layer eggplant and a pinch of cheese mixture from one of the bowls on top of sauce. Repeat, alternating sauce, eggplant and cheese on all caps, ending with sauce, then one slice of tomato if desired. Top each round with the remaining cheese from the second bowl. Broil in oven for about 4 to 5 minutes until cheese is bubbly.


Melissa Iwai is the author and illustrator of many books for young children. Some of her stories include Soup Day and Pizza Day, which she wrote and illustrated. She is the illustrator of Thirty Minutes Over Oregon (a 2018 Orbis Pictus Honor book) and I’ll Hug You More, as well as many more. She received her BFA in Illustration from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. Melissa has been a proud member of SCBWI since 1996 and served on the faculty of the SCBWI New Jersey Regional Conference in 2013. Please visit her site at www.melissaiwai.com to view her work.

Posted in Interviews, Pocono Retreat, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments