Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Kissmas!

'Tis the season for spending time with your loved ones!  Whether that's a snuggle with your sibling, smooch with your spouse, or cuddle with your kiddos, I hope you're burying your friends and family in an avalanche of love this holiday season.

Puppy love is no exception, and I just had to share this picture of my mom's dog, Bailey, giving my Penny a kiss under the Christmas tree.  :)

From my little corner of the internet, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and the happiest New Year!  I hope your home is filled with laughter, fun, good things to eat, and wonderful memories this holiday season!

Penny and Bailey say, "We're ready for Santa Paws!"

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

COSCBWI Meeting November 2015

November flew by like a crisp autumn breeze!  (Which is why my COSCBWI meeting summary blog post is just a smidge late!)

After a year of hard work diligently writing and illustrating, the November meeting featured a chance to kick back and relax.  In honor of an oh-so beloved children's author, the group watched Miss Potter--a movie about the life and work of Beatrix Potter.  Everyone munched on popcorn and cookies, and fun was definitely had by all!

Members who attended the movie night also got a sneak peek at the winning set of printed cards for the 2015 Notecard Contest.  This was the first year that Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI ran a contest for illustrators.  The theme was "Seasons of Inspiration" and artists were instructed to illustrate a notecard for their favorite season.  COSCBWI members cast their votes via an online survey, and two winners were chosen to represent each season in a one-of-a-kind notecard set.  The winning illustrations are just lovely!

They can be ordered online here, but supplies are limited so don't delay!

November marked the last COSCBWI meeting for the year, but monthly meetings will begin again in January 2016.  Be sure to visit for info on next year's events.

I can't wait to see old friends and new faces at the meetings in 2016! 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween 2015

Today is October 31, which means....


I have way too much fun picking out Halloween costumes for my dog, Penny.  Froggy PennyDragon Penny, and Hula Penny have all been crowd-pleasers.

This year, say hello to....


My super-tolerant, endlessly-patient dog is awesome.  This year, she let me put both googly eyes AND antennae on top of her head.  One of Penny's most beloved toys is a little one-clawed lobster, so I channeled her inner crustacean for this year's costume.

It's rather adorable how excited Penny gets for Halloween.  The picture taking is her least favorite part, but once I'm done, she's all tail-wags and happy yipping until I take her outside to greet the Trick-or-Treaters. 

Penny says, "Can we please please please please please go outside now?"

It wasn't rainy this year, so we got to sit on the front stoop.  The kids couldn't come to our house fast enough for Penny.

Penny says, "Where are they?  Where are the kids?!"

Unfortunately, the temperature dropped rather quickly and we had a shivering puppy for most of the night.  She still enjoyed greeting our neighbors from the warmth of our laps, and giving kisses whenever kids got close.  It was hilarious to see everyone's reactions to our furry lobster, although one little girl was insistent she was an ant.

This isn't the only costume I put our dog in this year.  As you may recall from last year, Penny was bizarrely enthusiastic about being a frog.  I got her old costume out just to see how she would react...

Penny says, "YAY!  I'M A FROG AGAIN!"
...And she whined and wagged and bounced and barked, clearly thrilled to see her amphibian clothes again.  I dressed her up and let her hop around for a while, catching the proof on camera.  So there we have it--my dog wants to be a frog.  What a weirdo.   

Happy Halloween!

I hope you have a spooktacular day filled with pumpkin goodies, hot apple cider, and adorably costumed pets and kiddos!

Penny says, "Pinch, pinch!"

Friday, October 30, 2015

COSCBWI Meeting October 2015

This month's Central & Southern Ohio SCBWI meeting featured Laura Bickle.  Laura is the YA author of The Hallowed Ones and The Outside, also writing contemporary fantasy novels under the name Alayna Williams.  She led the group in a discussion on the adaptation of fairy tales and how the themes still inspire us today.

Fairy tales are near and dear to many people's hearts and are often the first stories introduced to young audiences.  Laura began her discussion with a look at the common features in fairy tales--from the well-known themes of good vs. evil and moral lessons, to the recurring elements like magical objects and animal familiars.  She shared a quote from the Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales that boils the genre down quite concisely: 
"A fictional story, including fantasy, that is told for entertainment, is episodic, contains supernatural challenges and magical motifs, and ends happily."  
While it's hard to say who invented the very first fairy tale, some of the most well-known forefathers include the Brothers Grimm and Charles  Perrault.  The stories were originally aimed towards children, but the old fairy tales are often quite darker than their modern counterparts.  (Walt Disney definitely left out the stepsisters' foot mutilation in his cartoon version of Cinderella!)  In light of the upcoming Halloween holiday, Laura shared a creepy tale called The Willful Child by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm that involved a mother smacking her zombie son's arm back into the earth--a story that most mothers wouldn't tell their youngsters today.  (And will probably give me nightmares for the next month!)
Even though fairy tales originated centuries ago, Laura explained that they are quite relevant and popular in contemporary literature.  Modern fairy tales bridge old stories with a new audience.  They may contain the common motifs, archetypes, and structure of traditional fairy tales, but present-day writers give the stories twists and angles that resonate with readers in a new way.  Gender roles are frequently tackled (goodbye weakling damsels in distress!) and the stories of villains are often explored.  Laura showed us a Youtube summary of "Shrek" to illustrate this--a story that closely follows the path of a traditional fairy tale while adding humor, surprises, and pizzazz to connect with today's audiences.  
After a fun and lively group discussion, Laura passed out cards with common fairy tale themes.  (Mine said "Two Brothers" and "First Kiss.")  She encouraged us to think of these cards as jumping off  points and consider how we could use these tried-and-true themes in a unique way.  With the freedom for each new storyteller to put their own spin on beloved stories, there are endless ways to create your very own modern fairy tale! 
You can find out more about Laura Bickle and her novels at
If you want to learn more about Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI, be sure to visit the website at  I hope to see you at the November meeting!  (And don't forget--it's the last meeting of the year!)
 Note: Cover images for The Hallowed Ones and Dark Alchemy are from

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

COSCBWI Meeting September 2015

This month's Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI meeting featured author-illustrator Anne (Vittur) Kennedy.  Anne told us all about her path to publication and gave the group an insider's perspective on what it entails to write and illustrate a picture book.
Anne illustrated for 30 years before she had the opportunity to become an author-illustrator.  Her path to publication was a bit unorthodox.  She didn't get a formal art education and instead went to school for a degree in music education.  She always loved drawing, though, and was fortunate to get an agent recommendation.  The agent wasn't sold on her work at first, so she asked if she could revise her portfolio and try again.  He gave her a job thereafter, and her life has been filled with illustrating ever since.  The Farmer's Away! Baa! Neigh! came out in 2014 and is the first book she got to both write and illustrate.  Her newest author-illustrator project, Ragweed's Farm Dog Handbook, just came out in August and she hopes it will become a continuing series.
After telling us a bit about herself, Anne opened the floor for questions.  She offered great advice for aspiring artists and writers, and had lots of interesting things to say about her work including:
-She finds drawing animals much easier than drawing humans.  Sometimes when she has to draw children, she thinks of them as rodents instead.
-She thinks that one of the most difficult parts about publishing is self-promotion.  Anne recommended that unpublished writers and illustrators become familiar with social media and start building their platforms as early as possible.
-Anne loves working from home and sometimes stays in her pajamas all day when she gets swept up in her work.  (Who isn't guilty of that from time to time?) 

-Anne believes that there's no right way to get published, and reminded us all to put our best work out there and find our own unique paths to publication.

After Anne answered everyone's questions, she read Ragweed's Farm Dog Handbook aloud.  With charming illustrations and a hilarious dog protagonist, it's a must-read for any canine lover.  :)

You can find out more about Anne on her artist page here.  (Her gallery is adorable!)

If you want to learn more about Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI, be sure to visit the website at  I hope to see you at the October meeting!

Note:  Cover image for Ragweed's Farm Dog Handbook is from  Cover image for The Farmer's Away!  Baa!  Neigh! is from

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Illustrating News

My last blog post went over the bulk of what I've been up to for the past several months.  I didn't mention one big project, though: my entry for the 2016 Northern Ohio SCBWI Calendar Contest!

Each year at the annual Northern Ohio SCBWI Conference, the chapter hosts a Calendar Contest for illustrators.  (In fact, I created my very first Photoshop illustration for the contest back in 2011.) 

I'm very happy to report that I finished my illustration on time, and it was voted into the 2016 calendar!

This is definitely one of my favorite illustrations that I've worked on.  Although it took me quite a long time to finish with my bum shoulder, I wanted to tackle a full illustration in the lineless-style.  I couldn't resist drawing animals, but took this opportunity to practice painting humans, too.  (My hubby was a big help with this and let me know that the poor farmer had two left hands at one point.  D'oh!)

I'm so thrilled that my piece was chosen for the 2016 calendar.  (And I truly can't believe that this is the fifth year in a row my piece has made it into the calendar!)  The contest entries were all amazing, and competition gets stiffer every year.  I hope you'll check out the other winners on the Northern Ohio SCBWI website:

In other news, I'd like to take this opportunity to announce that I have taken on the role of Illustrator Coordinator for Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI.  I'm very honored that my chapter's Board thought I would do well in this new role.  I still have much to learn about illustrating and publishing, but I'm excited to expand our programming and offerings for illustrators.  Don't think that means I've given up on writing, though!  I'm equally dedicated to both creative endeavors and very much hope to become a published author-illustrator someday.

That's all my big news for now!  With another conference just around the corner, it's time to get back to the grindstone on my writing and illustrating projects.  :)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

Long time no proper update, huh?

I know it's been pretty quiet around here, but this blog post title from A Tale of Two Cities pretty much sums up my past half year: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  Here's a breakdown (complete with emoticons!)

:) :) :) :) :)
 I went from being a technological dinosaur... being a technological supernova!

:( :( :( :( :(
This is because the bulk of my gadgets decided to resurrect their Y2K agenda of rebellion.  And rebel they did.

In March, my home desktop monitor went on the fritz, blacking out whenever it pleased.  This made completing my assignment for the Western PA SCBWI Illustrator Day a bit of a nightmare.  Old Screeny would be working just fine, then start to blink once or twice as if getting sleepy.  I'd yelp, scramble to save everything, then expel a scream of curses as my screen went blank with no guarantee that it would ever come back.  It made me a very grumpy Kathryn.

:) :) :) :) :)
But I finished my piece on time and had a great experience at the event.  I got to meet a lot of wonderful illustrators and gained valuable feedback from the featured art director.  And now I have yodeling dragons in my portfolio, which makes me a bit less grumpy.

:( :( :( :( :(
You may be thinking, "Silly Kathryn--why didn't you just complete your illustration during lunch on your office computer?"  Because my office computer is old, and slow, and stupid, and stopped working at exactly the same time.  This made me an extremely grumpy Kathryn.

:) :) :) :) :)
IT had to scrub it clean, reinstall everything, scrub it clean part deux, reinstall everything again, and eventually got it working.  Sort of.  For some reason, the Adobe programs kept malfunctioning, so IT had to keep coming back to uninstall and reinstall the software.  After many weeks, I finally regained a fully functioning computer--albeit a rather poky one.  Photoshop is now so sloooooow, but I managed to do a little equine portrait while re-setting up all my digital brushes (for the umpteenth time--but who's counting?)

This was also a gift for a friend of her character on deviantArt.

:( :( :( :( :(
Back at home, Old Screeny eventually kicked the bucket.  This wasn't unexpected, but still made me a grumpy Kathryn.  Who wants to spend a few hundred bucks on a new monitor when the old one should have lasted more than four years?  Not me.

:) :) :) :) :)
But we purchased a new, ginormous, AWESOME monitor for my at-home illustrating.  I love it to pieces.  I pulled out an old Simba sketch to color test the screen and bought some Photoshop brushes that have always been on my wish list.  This made me a significantly happier Kathryn.

He's working on his ROAR!

:( :( :( :( :(
Backing up a ways, I have been the butt of technological mocking for a long time.  My five-year-old slide-style phone hardly functioned, couldn't access the internet, and had a screen that was disgustingly corroding from the inside.  It caused me embarrassment on more than one occasion, like when I couldn't use it to keep time for an art director at a conference.  (Ouch.)  Throw in the fact that our old laptop was as slow as a snail in molasses in Siberia, and it was made abundantly--often humiliatingly--clear that I needed to step up my technological game.  A mocked Kathryn is both a sad and grumpy Kathryn.

:) :) :) :) :) 
Fortunately, I have a wonderful family who is very supportive of my writing and illustrating endeavors.  With their help, we were able to buy a new Surface Pro 3 and iPhone this year.  The Surface Pro 3 does triple-duty replacing our old laptop, allowing me to illustrate digitally on-the-go, and providing me with a tablet I can take to events.  The iPhone lets me keep up with my bagillion emails--and see what Twilight Sparkle is doing in my MLP app.  (Hey, I never knew what I was missing these past few years in mobile gaming!)  So now when someone asks to see my illustrations at a workshop, I don't have to mumble excuses and wish my phone's corrosion would eat me.

I haven't gotten to use the Surface Pro as much as I'd like, but it's finally all set up and accessorized, and I hope to use it to start illustrating during lunch again.  I did a little Disney doodle to set up my digital brushes and can't begin to describe how awesome this tablet is.  It makes me a smiley Kathryn.

If only the world wouldn't get in the way...

:( :( :( :( :(
The biggest frown of all has been my health.  Since last November, I've had a stabbing/aching/painful spot in my shoulder blade.  I hoped it would go away, rested it, iced it, wrapped it in a heating pad, but the pain wouldn't subside.  It hurts to write; it hurts to illustrate, especially after sitting at my office computer all day.  So I've had to drastically cut back on both of my creative loves.  Eventually, I saw my doctor and started that fun cycle of testing, medications, and physical therapy.  This has now been ongoing for several months.  Nobody quite knows what's wrong with me, what caused the pain to begin with, or agrees on the best course of treatment.  This has made me the grumpiest Kathryn of all.  :(

:) :) :) :) :)
I'm now seeing a specialist who is giving me trigger point injections, and he hopes to ultimately help me with my migraines, too.  (Hooray!!!)  Only time will tell if this makes me better, or if we'll have to go back to the drawing board.  So for now I just have to do what I can when I can--even if it drives me crazy at times.  But I'm trying to be a good little patient, keeping up with my PT, and following my doctor's orders.  Hopefully, I'll be back to a normal, happy, smiley, creative, inspired  Kathryn soon.

I can't end this post on a frowny health note; that's just a big bummer.  So I'll say that I've also had a lot of fun these past few months seeing my sister and niece from Seattle; going to an old-timey baseball tournament in Michigan with my other sister and nephew; visiting family in New York; celebrating many birthdays/anniversaries/and other festive events; and spending a few days in Niagara Falls with my hubby.

Yes, we did go on the Maid of the Mist.  Yes, we did get wet.

And because I'm a big dweeb, I was super-excited that I got to eat at the Rainforest Cafe not once, but TWICE during my travels.
Who doesn't want to eat with animatronic tigers?!

And that's my summary of the past six months.  It's been good; it's been bad; it's been fun; it's been frustrating.  The best of times, the worst of times.  A roller coaster of "#*@&'s" and "huzzahs!"  I have no idea what the next six months will bring, but I'll certainly keep you updated as much as I can.  :)   

Note: All art and photos were drawn/taken by me.       

Monday, August 31, 2015

COSCBWI Meeting August 2015

This month's Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI meeting involved scissors, glue sticks, and lots of laughter!  I think it's safe to say that children's writers and illustrators are naturally drawn to arts and crafts projects, so the August meeting topic was a perfect fit: creating picture book dummies!

Regional Advisor, Linda Miller, explained the ins and outs of making picture book dummies.  A picture book dummy is a physical mock-up of your manuscript as a 32-page book.  (While there are exceptions to that page count, 32 is the industry standard and a safe choice to use for your dummy.)  Most writers and illustrators are used to seeing their words on a computer screen or printed out in manuscript format over a few pages.  The goal of a picture book dummy is to divide your manuscript over 32 pages and see how it holds up in "book format."  Picture book dummies are great for giving you a new perspective on your story and how it unfolds page by page.  They are also a wonderful way to determine:

-if your story is too long or too short
-if your story has a logical flow
-if there are enough scene changes
-if there are too many words on any given page 
-if your envisioned page turns are interesting
-if your plot has any weak points

Not only are picture book dummies easy-peasy to make, but they're inexpensive, too.  We made ours with:

-eight sheets of paper
-pen or pencil

All you have to do is fold your eight pieces of paper in half (like a book), staple the pages together at the center, chop up your manuscript, and paste the words on each page.  Then you can doodle some illustrations in if you'd like, and voila!  You have a mock-up of your story as a 32-page book.

It doesn't have to be perfect; globs of glue and five-second scribbles are a-okay!

If your dummy isn't everything you hoped it would be, it may be a sign that your manuscript needs a little more work.  Don't be afraid to revise, then try again (and again, and again!)  You'll be glad you did when it's time to submit to agents and editors.  Picture book dummies are also a fun way to experiment with your manuscript; you may just discover something delightful as you snip and shuffle your text.  :) 

If you want to learn more about Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI, be sure to visit the website at  I hope to see you at the September meeting!     

Note: Art and text are from my own manuscript.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

COSCBWI Meeting July 2015

This month's COSCBWI meeting featured guest speaker Cindy Thomson.  Cindy writes historical fiction with her most recent novels including Grace's Pictures and Annie's Stories.  Set during the turn of the century, the books immerse readers in the lives of two immigrant women.  It's imperative to conduct extensive research when writing historical novels, so Cindy shared her tips on how to become a research pro with our group.

Even though historical fiction is "fiction" (i.e. a made up story), thorough research is still needed to make the story seem authentic and true to the time period.  Readers won't believe that your 17th century pirate character would eat chicken nuggets, or that your cave man hero would fight a mammoth with a sword.  Such inaccuracies pull the reader out of the story--or worse--make them put the book down!  Researching an entire time period or culture can be a bit overwhelming, though.  What sources can you trust?  What sources should you stay away from?  Cindy explained her favorite research methods that she uses to write her own novels.
Primary Sources describes primary sources as "documents or physical objects which were written or created during the time under study."  Cindy loves to use primary sources during her research, and there are lots to choose from.  Libraries are a great source for finding maps, books of letters and memoirs, and novels that were written during the time period.  By immersing yourself in documents from the era, Cindy said you can gain lots of insight on the setting of your historical novel and the culture of the people who would have lived during that time.

Secondary Sources describes secondary sources as "sources that interpret and analyze primary sources, and are one or more steps removed from the event."  Cindy explained that they are not always reliable, but can still be quite helpful.  She recommends seeking out academic books, informative blogs, .org websites, and reading other novels on the market that are set in the same time period.  (Cindy has even met some very nice authors who were happy to share their research sources with her.)  She also recommends going to museums and consulting experts when possible.

On the flip side, Cindy warned that the some information from secondary sources should be taken with a grain of salt.  Wikipedia, for example, can be great for finding quick facts, but sometimes provides inaccurate information.  Novels that haven't been researched thoroughly often contain historical inaccuracies.  Even interviewing someone who lived during a certain time or event can have its disadvantages.  They may know a lot about their own experience, but they can't accurately portray everyone's experience.

As long as you keep a good perspective and vett your research, secondary sources can be very handy when writing historical fiction.

Fun Stuff
"Fun stuff" is everything else you do to enhance your research--like taking a research trip, attending local cultural festivals, experiencing reenactments, etc.  You don't have to go to Florence to write a book set in Renaissance Italy, but it sure is a fun way to talk your spouse into taking that once-in-a-lifetime trip!

Cindy's last research tip was my personal favorite: when in doubt, talk to your local librarian.  They may not have the answer, but they will certainly know where to find it!

You can find out more about Cindy and her books on her website at

If you want to learn more about Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI, be sure to visit the website at  I hope to see you at the August meeting!

Note: Book cover image is from

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

COSCBWI Meeting June 2015

This month's COSCBWI meeting featured a great discussion on query letters.  Query letters are essentially "pitch letters" that you send to agents and editors to tell them about your book.  Today's market is bursting with aspiring writers, and it can be difficult to capture the attention of industry professionals.  (Some agents even receive hundreds of queries a day!)  With so much competition, it's important to do everything you can to craft a winning letter and help your story stand out in a sea of queries.
COSCBWI's Regional Advisor, Linda Miller, first went over the staples of writing a query.  When you write a query, you want to conform to industry standards and present yourself in a very professional light.  (So don't print your letter on neon green paper, or dump sparkles inside the envelope!)  A basic query should consist of an introduction, an enticing plot summary (one or two short paragraphs), a short bio, the word count and genre/intended age group, and any other pertinent information.  It should be no more than one page in length and should be free of typos and errors.  Agents and editors often request materials to accompany a query letter (i.e. the first five pages, entire picture book manuscript, etc.), so be sure to research what each professional wants and specify what you're enclosing with your letter.  Make sure you get their name and gender right, too; addressing a letter to Ms. Shannon McAgent when Shannon is a male is a HUGE error.  (And will probably make Shannon McAgent quite grumpy!)
Linda also went over several questions you should ask yourself as you write your query, including:
-Why would your target group want to read your book?
-Why would your target group benefit from your book?
-Why is your book right for this specific publisher or agent?
-Would you want to read your book based on your query?
If you can't answer these questions, you may want to revise your query letter some more before sending it out.  It's also a good idea to have colleagues read it over to help you iron out any wrinkles.  The group practiced critiquing each other's work and offering constructive feedback.  It was wonderful to hear the letters from our brave volunteers, and the feedback offered was very encouraging and helpful!
If you want to learn more about COSCBWI, be sure to visit the website at  (You can read all about the awesome upcoming workshop with author Jody Casella, too!)  I hope to see you at the July events!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Back from the Beach!

Guess who's back from the beach!

"Huh?  Kathryn went somewhere?" you ask.  Well, I intended to write a blog post before I left, but I got a bit sidetracked with buying sunscreen and packing and all that good stuff. 

I feel extremely lucky that I got to go on two beach trips this year.  This time, I went to Hilton Head with my family.  It was a wonderful week, and I didn't even come back burnt to a crisp!  Highlights included lots of beach and pool time, sleeping in, eating about 4 cans of Pringles, and puzzling galore.

I also took the world's best sisters picture with my seventeen-year-old sistwerp.

I was rather annoyed with someone off-camera.

 And saw an alligator in the lagoon behind our condo.

Do alligators make good pets?  He was so cute!

And got to spend lots of time with the world's cutest twenty-pound crab.

We did not let the alligator eat our crab.

I was also FINALLY smart enough to bring some clay-working tools with me so I could scribble in the sand properly.  (No doodling with driftwood this year!)  I made a few sand sketches, including this one:

Which I happily colored in Photoshop when I got home.  :)

While I already miss the awesome sand and heat (why, oh why, can't Ohio have more beaches?), I am happy to be home with my hubby and snuggle-puppy again. 

I hope everyone is having a fun summer, and I promise an actual update-post is coming soon!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

COSCBWI Meeting May 2015

This month's Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI meeting featured a special visit from YA author Susan Bradley.  Susan was the former Regional Advisor for our chapter, and it's always such a treat when she comes to speak at a meeting!  She stepped down from the position in order to pursue her Master of Fine Arts in Writing.  Now that she's graduated from her program, we jumped at the chance to have her come in and discuss her MFA experience.

Making the decision to go back to school is no easy task.  It's a decision that affects your time, family, and wallet.  For Susan, a Part-Time Program worked best for her busy lifestyle, but there are Full-Time and Online-Only school options as well.  With a Part-Time Program, students can still work as much as they need to while getting their degree.  The low-residency component--usually five, seven, or ten days twice a year--allows students to get important face-to-face interactions with instructors and peers, but doesn't keep them away from their families and day-jobs for too long. 

Susan explained that a Master of Fine Arts is a terminal degree, so there is no higher degree than the one you obtain at the end of your program.  There are many jobs one can pursue with a Master of Fine Arts in Writing including teaching at the college level, editing, business/technical writing, creative writing, and agenting.  A new career isn't the only reason to go back to school, though.  MFA programs allow students to make contacts in the publishing world, create a writer's network, obtain mentoring, and improve their craft. 

Susan discussed that it's very important to know what you're getting into before jumping into a Master of Fine Arts program.  In addition to lots and lots (and lots) of reading, Susan was also required to critique her classmates' work, complete many writing assignments, teach a class, participate in online forums and panels, attend residencies, and write and defend her thesis.  MFA programs require a big time and energy commitment.  If you're thinking of going back to school, she recommended you involve your family in the decision making process--especially if you plan on keeping your day-job--and make sure they are 100% supportive.

With all the options that are available, how do you choose the program that's best for you?  Susan brought up a lot of great questions that every potential student should consider including:

-What is the format?  (Full-Time, Part-Time, or Online?)
-Is the program accredited?
-What type of writing does the program focus on, and does it match your own career goals?
-What are the credentials of the instructors?
-What is the reputation of the program?
-What is the cost?  Does it fit your budget, or is financial aid available?
-Are students going on to get published once they graduate?  (There should be an online publication list.)

She also gave us a list of institutions with renowned MFA programs including:

-Iowa Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa
-Vermont College of Fine Arts
-Antioch University-Los Angeles
-Ohio State University
-Seton Hill University
-Hamline University
-Full Sail Online

Susan chose Seton Hill to pursue her Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction.  The Part-Time format fit her whirlwind, single-mom lifestyle, she was impressed by the school's reputation and faculty, and the program focused on her desired genre of writing.  She said she couldn't be happier with her experience, from the classes she took to the close friends she made.  (And with two published books now under her belt--Unraveled and Uncovered--her story is clearly one of success!)  Susan ended the meeting by encouraging us all to consider pursuing continuing education, and to never EVER give up on our publishing dreams!

If you want to learn more about Susan and her books, be sure to check out her website at  A big thank you to Susan for coming in and telling us all about her MFA experience!

You can find out more about Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI and upcoming events by visiting  I hope to see you at the June meeting!  
Note: Photo is from Susan Bradley's website,

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

School Visit!

This past week, I got to make a special visit to my sister's third grade classroom.  She's a teacher in a nearby school district and always encourages her kids to be reading maniacs. 

Although I'm not published yet, I love taking this yearly opportunity to speak to a room full of kids.  I've always been the sort of person who runs away from the spotlight, so public speaking has never been my forte.  Fortunately, I'm starting to get used to twenty pairs of eyes staring straight at me as I ramble on aimlessly and try not to look like a dweeb while my sister snaps photos of me pointing at books.  (Oh darn, those pictures are all on her camera.  Guess I can't post them here!)

Third graders really are such a fun age group!  I brought a variety of books from the Ohioana Library to talk about Ohio authors and illustrators (all of whom they were familiar with--awesome work, teachers!) and we read First Dog.  The kids loved that it was written and illustrated by all Ohioans--J. Patrick Lewis, Beth Zappitello, and Tim Bowers--and that it featured a cute, fluffy dog.  (Maybe more kids would like math if it involved cuddly canines?)

After the story, I shared some of my own work and talked a little bit about how I'm trying to become published.  I showed them some art, talked about the revision process, and tried not to make more doofy faces as my sister continued snapping photos.  I also made a noble effort not to burst out laughing at the hilarious things the kids said.  (Me: Does anyone have any unusual pets at home?  Kid: We have lots of gnats in our house!)  

Then we did a bookmark craft together from the Ohioana Book Festival, and I explained how the drawings were done by aspiring SCBWI illustrators just like me.  They had an absolute blast coloring the bookmarks and drawing some of their own!  To help keep the kids quiet as they waited in line for me to tie ribbons on top, I had them each think of their favorite book.  The winning series by far were Diary of a Wimpy Kid for the boys and Puppy Place for the girls.  (Score another win for the cute, fluffy dogs!)  The kids were so creative and enthusiastic, and many even asked if they could make extra bookmarks to give to family members.  (D'awwwww!) 

The highlight of the day was when two little girls told me they want to be writers and illustrators when they grow up.  I very much hope their parents and teachers encourage them to follow that dream.  :)

The day ended with smiling faces, "Do you have to go already?" whining, and a few sticky-fingered hugs.  I can't wait to visit again next year!     

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

COSCBWI Meeting April 2015

This month's Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI meeting featured a special visit from J. Patrick Lewis.  The 2011-2013 Children's Poet Laureate, J. Patrick Lewis is a prolific, award-winning children's writer with over eighty books under his belt.  Our chapter was thrilled that he was able to take time out of his busy schedule to spend an evening with us.

J. Patrick began the meeting by talking a bit about his history in publishing.  Prior to becoming a children's writer, he was an economics professor at Otterbein University.  His work was rejected for seven years, and he was strongly encouraged to give up.  The naysayers just made him want to try all the harder, though, so he kept at it, ultimately publishing his first book, The Tsar and the Amazing Cow, in 1988.  He loves speaking at schools and told us several stories of hilarious things kids have said to him over the years.  He even brings back a t-shirt from each school he visits and currently has 530 in his collection.

After his introduction, J. Patrick opened the floor for questions, and boy did our members pick his brain!  He offered great advice for writers hoping to publish children's poetry.  For reading suggestions, he recommended Robin Skelton's The Shapes of Our Singing and Louis Turco's The Book of Forms, as well as picking up a copy of Writer's Market or Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market for submission research.  He also emphasized that if you want to be a writer, you have to be a re-writer, so don't be afraid to rework and revise your precious words. 
Fielding questions about his own writing process, J. Patrick explained that his poems usually go through ten or twenty revisions.  While he doesn't have a critique group, he often seeks feedback from his twin brother.  If his brother says the poem is good, he feels comfortable sending it off.  But if his brother says it stinks (in that brutally-honest sibling way), he works on it some more.  When J. Patrick has a book idea, he starts with a theme and lets the words lead him from there.  He likes to write more poems than will ultimately be in the final book so the publishing house has a variety to choose from.  He explained that not all of his work gets published, and he still deals with rejection.  But perseverance and dedication are the keys to his success, so he reminded us all to never give up and write, write, WRITE! 

J. Patrick wrapped up the meeting by reading his poetry, which was a lovely, mesmerizing treat.

If you want to learn more about J. Patrick Lewis and his books, be sure to visit his website at

You can find out more about Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI and upcoming events by visiting  I hope to see you at the May meeting!  

 Note: Photo taken by Linda Miller, used with permission.

Monday, April 27, 2015

And Busy Season is DONE!

I hate to admit it, but I have been ignoring this blog recently.  (Please don't hate me!)

I promise it was unintentional.  While I no longer work at an accounting firm, spring and autumn are still the two busiest seasons for me.  At my current job with the Ohioana Library, spring keeps me very (very) busy planning the annual "Ohioana Book Festival."  It's an awesome one-day event celebrating Ohio literature, and this year's festival was the biggest yet with over 100 authors, a new venue, and a ginormous kids' space. 

2015 festival poster art, painted by the talented Jeffrey Ebbeler.

Throw in an SCBWI illustration workshop right in the middle of this season, and let's just say the past few months have been a whirlwind.  (But blissfully free of non-stop tax return processing.  Huzzah!)

The festival just wrapped up this past weekend, and I'm happy to say it was a big success!  Now that my plate is less full, I'm excited to jump back into blogging again.  Things may be a little jumbled around here for a week or two while I do some catch-up posting from the last few months.  This site is also overdue for a bit of spiffing up, like fixing broken links and updating my portfolio page.  I promise things will be back in shipshape soon!

Thanks for bearing with me while I gave you all the silent treatment.  I hope everyone is having a lovely spring and enjoying those beautiful buds and blooms!  

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

COSCBWI Meeting March 2015

The March meeting for Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI involved one of my favorite activities: first page critiques.  Every writer knows how important it is to craft a winning first page for his or her manuscript.  The first page is a story's first impression with readers, so it's crucial to make that impression a great one.

For first  page critique meetings, members are invited to bring the first page of their middle grade or young adult manuscript, or the first 500 words of a picture book manuscript.  The work is shared with the group, and members give feedback on things they like about the text  as well as what could still use a bit of polish.

Here are a few tips and pointers the group discussed during this critique meeting:

1)  Don't be afraid to revise and, if necessary, even cut some of your text.  It's easy to get attached to every word of your manuscript, but sometimes it's important to focus on the entire forest instead of the individual trees.  Good critique buddies can help you hone in on what's important, and what can be trimmed.  You may love the way you describe every step of your main character's morning routine, but readers might not need to know that she brushed her teeth, combed her hair, put on clothes, walked downstairs, sat at the kitchen table, poured cereal, checked the expiration date on the milk carton, and so on and so forth.  (Unless it's a cautionary tale about the dangers of drinking expired milk.)  Rewriting--and even deleting--those precious words can be so hard to do, but it's worth the heartache if it makes your story shine.  (Just remember to keep some chocolate bars at your desk to help you through the toughest revisions!)        

2)  It's never too early to practice proper formatting.  You may like to type your manuscript drafts with a fun font and specialized spacing, but you should make it a habit to present your manuscript in standard formatting with double spacing, one-inch margins, and 12 point font in a generally accepted typeset like Times New Roman.  (SCBWI members can find great resources regarding formatting guidelines on the national website at  You may be surprised how your text falls once you put it in standard formatting--like cutting off in the middle of your favorite paragraph!  Practicing proper formatting early on can help you avoid any unexpected hiccups when it's time to submit your work to professionals.     

3)  Don't info dump!  Most writers have heard this rule of thumb over and over again, but it can't be repeated enough.  You may be inclined to cram every bit of back-story and detail into your first page to ground your reader in your story, but that can end up being intimidating.  (And you don't want to scare your reader off--or bore them, or confuse them!)  Sprinkle in any necessary details to help pique your reader's interest (like if your narrator is a teenage boy or a talking squirrel from the planet Nutonia), and remember that you have a whole novel to explain everything else.  

COSCBWI usually does at least one first page critique meeting a year, so I have four other summaries of past meetings you can check out, too!  (You can find them hereherehere, and here.  Boy have I been doing these meeting summaries for a long time!)  Our discussions are different during each critique meeting, so you may find some other handy tips from these prior years.

 If you'd like to learn more about Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI and upcoming events, check out  I hope to see you at the April meeting!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

COSCBWI Meeting February 2015


February's Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI meeting featured YA author Natalie Richards.  I was so disappointed that the meeting fell during my vacation, so I wasn't able to attend.  Fortunately, Assistant Regional Advisor, Andrea Hall, was kind enough to step in and do a guest post meeting summary!

Andrea Hall:
We had an amazing visit from Natalie Richards at the February meeting!  Natalie’s presentation was titled ‘Pieces of the Publishing Pie’ and it was entertaining as well as informative.

Natalie started off the presentation by reminding us to be serious about our writing.  Read a lot.  Write a lot.  Give yourself deadlines.  No one else is going to write the book for you.  Joining a critique group is a good idea.  Your critique partners can help you find your writing strengths/weaknesses.  Knowing these are critical.  Playing up your strengths in each manuscript can help make it better, and realizing your writing weaknesses can help you improve them or find a way to use them less in your writing (such as description: if it isn’t your strength, maybe don’t try writing a historical piece).
It was Natalie’s third manuscript that landed her a literary agent.  It was still rejected by publishers. Many times.  Natalie’s fourth manuscript was the one that finally sold.  Why did that story (Six Months Later) sell?  Natalie believes it was because she found a story that fit her skills and writing strengths.  She needed something quick paced with a twisty plot to keep readers turning the page.

Once her debut book came out, her job wasn’t over.  Numerous book promotions were set up to help market the novel as well as school-visits.  Natalie thought when all the copies of her book sold, that was it.  No one told her it had gone back to be reprinted!  Meeting other authors and making connections helped her navigate the world of a debut release.

So what challenges did she face with her 2nd novel, Gone Too Far?  Natalie felt more pressure to deliver.  She felt a new set of responsibility to the readers who fell in love with her debut.  There were also tighter publishing deadlines, a whole new slew of rejections, and another level of fear for how the book would be received.

Natalie's parting words of advice are to be prepared to pitch your story anywhere, be willing to revise everything, be willing to work hard, and don’t quit!

To learn more Natalie and her books, be sure to visit her website at

A big thanks to Andrea for her guest post!  You can follow her on Twitter at @andreadawnhall.   

If you'd like to learn more about Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI and upcoming events, check out  I hope to see you at the March meeting!

Note: Cover image is from Natalie's website at

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Fun in the Sun

Oh where, oh where, has Kathryn been?

For one glorious week, I was lucky enough to get away from this wretchedness...

And relax in this awesomeness!

I also discovered how fun it is to take panoramic photos!

"This awesomeness" refers to Sint Maarten/Saint Martin/St. Maarten and every spelling variation thereof.  (Even after spending a week on the island, we still don't know how to "officially" spell its name!)  The trip was a special celebration for my father-in-law's 60th birthday. 

Don't worry--we still dealt with plenty of nasty winter on the way there and back.  In fact, we had a nice overnight detour in Charlotte, NC, after our flights got utterly screwed up. 

30+ hours of travel and still (sorta) smiling.

But at least we got to stay in a hotel, unlike those poor travelers who had to sleep on airport cots.


Once we finally got to our destination, the week was an absolute blast!  We swam, we sunbathed, we napped, and we drank about a dozen cans of Fanta Pineapple soda.

I didn't even know this deliciousness existed!

When we weren't guzzling down 49 grams of sugar in one sitting, we did some activities around the island including snorkeling and ATV riding.  I've never snorkeled before, and I was pretty lousy at it.  But we saw some really cool stuff, like wild sea turtles and ginormous urchins!  (Hubby wouldn't let me take my camera on the boat, so no pics.  He swore my sunscreen-slick fingers would send it straight to the bottom of the ocean.  Psh.)  The ATV'ing was a lot of fun, too, and the tour took us around both the French and Dutch sides of the island. 

This beautiful beach was a highlight of the ATV tour, where tourists watch airplanes land on the island while sitting alarmingly close to this sign:


We also did a sunset dinner cruise, which was both lovely and tasty!

Although I usually enjoy drawing in the sand during my beach trips (like my last trip to Hilton Head), the waves quickly washed away everything I doodled in St. Maarten.  But I still had lots of fun sketching in our pool alcove-gazebo-deck-thingy, as well as in the cute little nook in our bedroom.

My favorite sketch of the week was a pelican doodle that I threw a splash of color on when we got home.

Of course, the week was over all too soon.  Our trip ended with more fun winter travel and an encounter with a disco ball camel at the St. Maarten airport.

Oh yeah, and we may or may not have seen Johnny Depp's yacht.

Our taxi driver said that it was, and I'm going to choose to believe him.  :)

Now that I've spent a week soaking up the heat like a lizard in the sun, I feel ready to face the rest of this never-ending winter.  (It has to end sometime, right?)  Although, I'd happily head back to the Caribbean--even if it meant another 30+ hours of travel!

Note: Weather map picture is a screen shot from  The Fanta Pineapple picture is from  All other images were taken by me.