Ode To Clarice Jackson

As I write this, I have no clue how to create an ode, but Clarice Jackson is getting one written to her when I learn how.

Clarice Jackson was one of my first guardian angels that I set eyes on. Who knows what brought a woman of color to central Wisconsin in the early 1970’s, but as she was moving away with her family she took time to see a little white girl.

No one visited us. Our house was not open to visiting unless invited
and planned for well in advance. As a kindergartner I had full awareness
of this. I knew girls and women were less than men, extended and
immediate family reminded us weekly or more. I was third of three girls,
I knew I was wrong before I started.

Not looking like the models, not being thin, tall & gorgeous was
bad. Clarice was tall and beautiful, gorgeous in my eyes. But not thin.
And I already sensed not being white wasn’t right either. And she was
here to see me. She really wasn’t on good footing.

I’m pretty sure my eyes were as big as they could get. My young life was spent being invisible and being useful. If you’re not familiar with those sentiments, a sincere good for you. That’s not this story. So there stood Mrs. Jackson, my Sunday School teacher, right in the front hall. She came to see me. On top of that she had a gift for me. I’m pretty sure my expression didn’t hide all the “supposed to’s” she was tromping on. From her smile and graciousness, her focus only on me, as well as her insistence on seeing me herself, she did too.

Mrs. Clarice Jackson, wherever you are, thank you. You are loved, often remembered and cared about. I loved my Children’s Picture Bible. I carried and read that book that was almost as big as me, for years. I colored in that book, just a little. I still have it, and I have precious little from my growing-up years. I have never forgotten your spirit. Thank you for writing in the book, so I know you actually existed.

You might be asking, did Mrs. Jackson visit all the kids from class? Yup. I was the only child in that class at the small church. It was kind of dying out. The church was closed and torn down 3 or 4 years later.

Inspiration Abounds

These turn perceptions on their heads!

Perspective 2019

Perceptions, perspective, and hope guide my life. Participating and attending the 2019 NY SCBWI Conference greatly enriched my internal and external lives. I gained the perspective that far more time is spent in our life NOT having a book release or a book birthday, than having it. If I am in this business for 60 years I may have 378 books written (like Jane Yolen) but most of my writing will have had rejection slips and bumpy journeys to being printed. Some work will be put aside to percolate for a while, or stay silent. Whether author or illustrator, this could be true.

My journey may result in one, or many published books. Exploring bookstores in NYC strengthened my perceptions and perspective. There were entire stores of only children’s books, with shelves up to the ceiling of children’s books, ladders needed to reach them all. No wonder we need to research, and research some more; we need to revise, revise, and revise some more in order to stand out, to create our best work. Then we’ll search & search until we get a great match with an agent and publisher.

No one benefits from a mismatch. No one: no author, agent, editor, nor illustrator takes up a project hoping it fails or never sees the light of day. At 2019 NY SCBWI I listened to agents and editors all weekend share what life in the publishing world is like for them. How their hopes and dreams connected with your book (author and illustrator) flounder or die when others decline it being published. They’ve felt tingles or a spark about this project, they’ve asked difficult questions and committed to at least a year or more of living with this project. But it isn’t to be. AND they have to now tell the agent or illustrator or author, and their entire team that this one didn’t get picked.

We’ve heard of the 100’s and 1000’s of letters that cross agents and editors desks weekly, monthly, annually. No wonder so many more books are written than published, whether self published, traditionally published, or somewhere in between.

May you have a firm foundation for your life. May you explore, see and live so you have perspective and hopes. May your perceptions, preparations, perspiration, and plans be what they need to be for your hopes and dreams to be fulfilled. May you have grace, support, and hope to go on when projects are declined. May you have perspective to listen when you are told your project is good or great, but a mismatch. May you listen with your heart, mind and spirit when suggestions are given that will carry the project along to your vision for it. May you have the strength and energy to explore the suggestions to see what that end result looks and feels like. Then you, the artist, decides if that is your story or you stick with the original work.

Dreams and hopes are fluid. Mismatches happen. Not everything we create is destined for others to see. If your hope falters or deserts you, please reach out and tell someone. Ask for support. To use a friends’ wonderful analogy: sitting on the curb a while is fine. Feel, be, and breathe. Rest a while. If you find yourself slipping into the gutter or being carried down to the sewers, reach out. Others can help. We are a village. It takes a village to raise, nurture, grow, and to support an artist.

Non-Dominant Explorations

Taking Care of Your 80 year Old Self

How well do you use your non-dominant hand & arm?

Stretch your brain power and perceptions. Apply toothpaste with your other hand. Brush your teeth with your other (non-dominant) hand.

Practice with balled up pieces of paper & a garbage can, or dirty laundry & a bin. Throw a sponge, washcloth, or something into the sink or bathtub if that is a better place for you to start. Whatever works for you.

Some fun and very useful things to explore:

Throw a ball or toy to a dog with your non-dominant side of your body. For optimal body mechanics get your other foot forward, be in a good stance. For shoulder protection use your legs and core/trunk to power your throw. Really get your body’s wind-up involved, which will move & power your arm and lastly your hand. Pay attention all the way through your follow-through.

Hopefully you are using your entire body for tossing and throwing, for supporting yourself through the following explorations. That would be why I chose the title I did, this involves your perceptions, mind, nervous system, musclo-skeletal systems, motor planning, and more.

Next time you’re filling a vitamin or pill container explore using your other fingers. Pair other fingers with your thumb, not just your index finger. Explore using your non-dominant hand.

If there are no safety consequences, explore using your non-dominant hand & side of your body for cooking tasks such as stirring or adding ingredients. Make and eat your breakfast using the other side of your body. I don’t recommend pouring hot water, dealing with hot oil, or other health & safety hazards.

Changing things up helps our brains, vision, and coordination. There are plenty of research summaries and resources out there these days about brain plasticity and other topics if you want to read more.

I recommend exploring doing things in a different way for the added benefit of if/when something happens to your dominant side you’ll be more aware of what’s ahead. You will have had some practice and hopefully that will help lessen your frustration. There is often “enough” frustration & pain with whatever situation put you in need of using your non-dominant hand.

What do I mean? Sprains, fractures, wounds, stroke, carrying something in that hand and can’t switch it. Maybe someone dear needs a hug but one arm and hand are full.

Some places tether a computer mouse or trackball so it can only be used with a right hand. What if you have an amputation? Many farmers, machinery workers, and other people have missing digits or parts of arms.

It may take months to feel proficient using a mousepad/mouse/trackball with your non-dominant hand & upper limb but there are many benefits for long-term health. It can also help with over-use syndromes.

Perhaps notice what standardized things occur due to right handedness as ‘the normal’ in our society and thus is catered to. Some examples: opening doors to buildings, scissors, car controls and more. Ever wonder what other “normals” are catered to, to the detriment of others?


Greetings and Salutations! A key theme for my Taking Care of Your 80 year-old Self blogs is exploring what you have the interest, time, and energy (money & abilities) to do. Alas, to make more time for writing & revising manuscripts which will hopefully turn into books, I will be posting blogs once a month. I wanted to post the four NY 2019 SCBWI Conference blogs in a timely manner. Another goal was to have a healthy start for all the blogs on my newly created website. Thank you for visiting and please return as often as you like, we’ll be here with new authors and artists in the spotlight, new blogs, and more!

Update: George’s party for his 101st birthday was a great celebration! We enjoyed making rootbeer floats for attendees. The live jazz combo was excellent, and George sang Stardust for us! Amazing day. If you want to know more about George, please read Taking Care of Your 80 year old self blogs.


We’re at SCBWI NY Winter 2019. This is my fourth & final blog on this topic. Please also see my guest blog at Wisconsin SCBWI.

Sunday morning we’re back in the main ballroom. Lin Oliver is moderator for a panel of editors and agents. Again, we hear the heart and soul editors and agents put into their work. Their commitment for the writers and illustrators they work with is eye-opening. No matter the genre, they have hopes and dreams as well. They have disappointments, intimidating conference rooms and meetings to get through as well. Each of us is a part of a larger whole. We are encouraged to write because we love to write. Exceedingly few people get rich in the children’s publishing arena. Our definitions of success, our goals and dreams need to be based in reality. We can do this, together!

I wait on tenterhooks for my Sunday morning session. Writing a Series is presented by Matt Ringler, an editor who has many successful book series. Key words for this session are feelings and fresh, delving deep, character development, reality check, and celebrate frequently.

Mr. Ringler leads us through great exercises exploring ourselves, character development, plot, and many other topics. He explores the word success and encourages us to develop our own definition. He helps us understand the process for creating a book series. The people involved, their preparation, sweat, ideas, and tears.

He helps us understand and explore expectation management. It is interesting to hear an example of a small print run of 10,000 books, with a need for a reprint. It can be seen as a huge success! However, if you take the 20,000 that sold as a small print run & reprint. . .if 100,000 were printed but the market fell out and 80-90% are returned, different perspective. There is no magical number=success. It’s all dependent upon the situation.

The “give comparative titles, or not give comp titles” question is answered. Comparative titles are crucial to editors, they need it for their sales pitch to the entire publishing team. (I realize this may vary per publishing house, but this helps my understanding.)

This weekend has been mind blowing, as well as mind opening. Key words for this conference seem to be. . .Perspective. Perceptions. Understanding. Teamwork. Strength and hope (needed from within, and from without). Heart and soul. It takes a village to raise a writer. Perhaps many villages. We can do this. Keep writing!


Matt Ringler is a senior editor at Scholastic specializing in chapter book, middle grade, and YA fiction. He works on the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine, The Puppy Place series by Ellen Miles, and the Two Dogs in a Trench Coat series by Julie Falatko. His YA list include New York Times best-selling author Goldy Moldavsky’s Kill the Boy Band and No Good Deed, plus It’s Not Me, It’s You and The Date to Save by Stephanie Kate Strohm.

Rexalicious Ruffaford

Best Day Ever!

Our day started with a long walk. Right away! I didn’t have to wait for Charlene to sit looking at that screen thing and moving her fingers foreeeevveerrr. Nope, not this morning. We had a long walk, even saw Oscar! The guy had him so we got to sniff and really say hi today.

Down a ways, there were huge sticks in the road. Bigger than me. I couldn’t get my mouth on them, didn’t even try because they didn’t smell right. There was a noisy car thing was rolling all over and carrying a huge stick so we moved on. I’m smart that way, take care of my family.

Then those big animals walked down our street again this morning. Maybe they’re cows, or elephants. One of those big things anyway. They walked near our place, I barked. Charlene and Aaron both looked out the windows and made that smiling sound. But when I looked in my dish, there wasn’t a treat. So I looked out the window too.

The big animals’ ears twitched all the time, like they can hear everything. I can, maybe they can too. I bet they didn’t hear that rabbit under the tree though, they’re too tall. And the people on their backs, making too much noise maybe. Oh, cows. I forgot the fuzzy cows live down around the corner and have big horns. These weren’t cows. Ok, so elephants walked down our street this morning.

The elephants’ scat smelled sweet, like apples and dried grass and stuff. I ate one last year during a walk. They taste as sweet as they smell, but there was too much to eat before I got groaned at. Not my fault there was a bunch right where we were walking!

The best part of the day is next. Charlene got a flappy plastic rug out of the small building. That flappy rug isn’t very comfortable to lay on and it tasted terrible. It sounds like the plastic bottles I crunch. Wish I had one of those now. . . anyway, I led the way. Charlene got a little distracted and went the wrong way but I caught up and ran ahead to secure the area.

Then we wrestled sticks! Big ones, little ones, and snappy ones. I fought sticks that wouldn’t come out of the cold, white slippery ground. I chewed them anyway. I carried a few bigger than me, uh-huh.

I don’t know why Charlene put sticks on the flappy rug. I know dog bylaws say sticks are mine. So I wrestled her for some of them. It was a great game. Later when Charlene had a whole bunch in her hand, I snuck behind and got them! I protected her and chewed them into little bits! Then went and hunted again. I saved her and Aaron from them. I’ve never wrestled so many sticks before. Hope we do it again! Even though we dragged all the sticks on that flappy rug to the huge pile of sticks. I don’t get it, but we’re safe from those sticks now.

Today was great too because that wild dog didn’t come back. Not the red, long-tailed dog Charlene likes to see. This one smelled mean and hungry. Right in our yard. Don’t know what he was thinking, but I got treats for that barking. I know I heard wrong because no way did Charlene ask if it was carrying Salsa. Salsa is the small dog a few houses down. Ugtthkk. Makes me shudder. I patrolled and kept the mean, hungry wild dog away. He didn’t even stay in the woods long. Nope. He knew, I told him.

So today was a great day! Aaron was sick inside but I could smell he was happy, when we came in. And he made that funny sound like smiling out-loud as he said “Rex” and “helped.”

Disclaimer: no pups, horses, horse apples, Highland Cattle, tarps, red fox, or coyotes were hurt during the writing of this blog. Our sticks, and the neighbors Ash trees – well, you can’t win them all.

Taking Care of Your 80-year old Self

Explore new ideas of fun things. Things you have interest in but perhaps not the time, energy, money, or abilities. Can you adapt them? Volunteer? Maybe apply for a grant or an introductory class? Make a 1-5 year goal? Do a part of something, this year? Or not.

Draw to mind some favorite things you tried as a youngster. Maybe something you only got to do once or a few times. Or dreamed of doing.

Play around, explore. . .Go through puddles or mud (if safe), or whatever comes to mind if the above aren’t doable.

Enjoy something. Hug yourself. Live.

Eighty looks different for each person. Explore, and enjoy!

Want more? Explore, exploring!

Friends often tell me they have a very different perspective 3, 6, or 9 months after retiring, recycling themselves, or re-imagining their lives. Whatever you call it (bodies/minds not cooperating, moving, – everything is included), things look different months down the road.

Some people suggest not committing for at least 6 months after big changes. If you have that luxury, see what opportunities look like later. If you need to commit, perhaps you review things at 6 or 12 months. People get better at exploring, reaching out with their hearts and minds. They cast their nets in new directions, not needing to commit but playing what-if?

So if you haven’t explored for a while, please do so. If your interest, time, energy, money, and abilities all line-up. . .you decide what’s next. More exploring or commitment?

Journey Through Workshops

New York 2019 Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference

What do I share about two days of workshops and presentations, when I’ve agreed to the SCBWI policy ‘to not share what isn’t mine to share’?

Wonder and passion are excellent descriptors of my experience in my first session. Title: The Picture Book: It’s Not Writing. It’s Not Illustrating. It’s Riveting Emotional Theater! Presenters: Marla Frazee – illustrator, author and teacher; Allyn Johnston – VP and publisher, Beach Lane Books/Simon and Schuster; Ruben Pfeffer – agent and founder of Rubin Pfeffer Content. We hear how an agent and editor feel when they first read THE script. The script that gives them tingles. The script they read over and over again. The script that stops what they were going to do next. They take care of this first by putting the next steps in motion for THE script.

I hear the awe and respect in their voices as these presenters read picture books that excite them, and that they’ve read over and over, for years. I hear their passion as they point out all that touches them about this book. All that excels and rockets this over most other picture books. This changes my perceptions and perspective, changes my understanding.

I hear the wonder and passion Marla Frazee shares while she discusses her process for a few projects, start to finish. She shares her love and interpretation of the text. She shares the direction and misdirection of her thoughts while sketching thumbnails and larger images. She starts over in one example, to better match the expressiveness and direction of the text.

We hear the passion these people share with the writer. We hear best practices to work as a team. What they share is eye-opening and affirming. We hear the commitment needed from every member involved with a book.

Takeaways I can share, we’ve heard them many times from excellent kidlit people. At the very least, take 8 sheets of paper and fold them in half. 1) Create a picture book dummy for your picture books. 2) Read your book aloud at least 10 times. Why? How many times is a parent, teacher, older sibling or other person going to be reading aloud a favorite picture book? Like many of you, I record most later drafts. When I listen to the recording, I usually find many things to improve. I listen to someone else read it aloud. Hint, I do this with everything I write, no matter the genre.

Commitment, excitement, and exploration describe the afternoon session. Writing for Young Readers: Chapter Books and Young Middle Grade Novels is presented by Alyson Heller, senior editor Aladdin/Simon & Schuster; and Tricia Lin, assistant editor Aladdin/Sime & Schuster. They share examples and definitions of chapter books, young middle grade novels, older novels, and early readers. We hear the commitment and excitement they bring to their work and to the team involved with a book. We hear about the commitment writers need to have for writing, and for creating the end product with a team.

We explore voice, character, and themes in chapter books and mid grade novels. We work with writing prompts that help us find motivations, and develop characters. Writing exercises help us explore a good fit for our talents, tendencies, and skills.

We feel excitement as we brainstorm, work on exercises to explore concepts, and have group discussions. We work in small groups with people from around the country and world, and an editor joins us for a short time. We network and explore ideas. We exchange business cards and say farewell until next time!

Bios for SCBWI NY 2019 Presenters mentioned in today’s blog

In no particular order, their bios:

Allyn Johnston is Vice President and Publisher of Beach Lane Books. Allyn has been working in children’s publishing in her native California for twenty-four years. Among the authors and illustrators with whom she works are Mem Fox, Lois Ehlert, Marla Frazee, Cynthia Rylant, Debra Frasier, Arthur Howard, Jan Thomas, Avi, and M.T. Anderson. She’s also worked with Jeanette Winter, Jonah Winter, Linda Davick, Lauren Stringer, Mary Lyn Ray, Amy Schwartz, and K. L. Going. Beach Lane will be ten years old in 2019.

Recent titles Allyn has edited are New York Times bestseller Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury; and A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee and New York Times bestseller All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee, both of which received a Caldecott Honor. simonandschusterpublishing (dot) com/beach-lane/

Marla Frazee has illustrated many acclaimed picture books, including All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, which received a 2010 Caldecott Honor; EverywhereBabies by Susan Meyers; and Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild!by Mem Fox; as well as her own Boot & Shoe; Walk On!; Roller Coaster; Santa Claus the World’sNumber One Toy Expert; and A Couple of Boys Have the BestWeek Ever, which received a 2009 Caldecott Honor.

She received the Boston Globe­­-Horn Book Award for her wordless picture book The Farmer and the Clown. She is the author-illustrator of The Boss Baby, now a DreamWorks animated feature film; the book’s sequel The Bossier Baby; and the fall 2018 picture book Little Brown; as well as many others. She is also the illustrator of The Seven Silly Eaters, the New York Times best-selling Clementine series, and the picture book It Takes a Village by Hillary Clinton. She lives with her family in Pasadena, California. Visit her at MarlaFrazee (dot) com.

Alyson Heller is a senior editor at Aladdin Books, and imprint of Simon & Schuster. She acquires picture books, chapter books, middle grade, and the occasional YA, but her heart is in contemporary middle grade. She is actively looking for middle grade reads that deal with “tougher” topics, strong female characters who kick butt and take names, and stories across all age ranges that represent the under-represented in our world today. She has been fortunate enough to work on a range of books from nonfiction (Life in Motion: Young Reader Editionby Misty Copeland, The Distance Between Us: Young Reader Edition by Reyna Grande, Never Caught: The Story of Ona Judge, George and Martha Washington’s Courageous Slave Who Dared to Run Away: Young Reader Edition by Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Kathy Van Cleve), to picture books (Cake by Sue Hendra, illustrated by Paul Linnet) to series (Thunder Girls, Goddess Girls for Aladdin QUIX, both by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams), to contemporary MG reads (Star-Crossedby Barbara Dee, Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls trilogy by Beth McMullen). Tweet her (at) EditorAlysonH.

Tricia Lin is an assistant editor at Aladdin Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. She acquires picture books and middle grade novels for Aladdin, as well as young adult novels for Simon Pulse. At Aladdin, she has had the privilege of working with wonderful authors such as Jenn Bishop, Kate Hannigan, and Kevin Sands. Tricia holds a BA in politics from New York University. Follow her on Twitter at (at) triciaelin.

Rubin Pfeffer is the founder of Rubin Pfeffer Content, LLC, a literary agency focused on children’s content, representing industry luminaries, award winners, and exciting new talents. Previously, Rubin served as president and publisher of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Trade, working with world-renowned writers and illustrators of adult and children’s literature. As SVP and chief creative officer of Pearson, Inc., Pfeffer coordinated programs between Penguin and Pearson’s educational products and services. Later, he joined Simon & Schuster as SVP and publisher of children’s books, overseeing such fine imprints as Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Atheneum, McElderry Books, and the launching of Beach Lane Books. rpcontent (dot) com/