Monday, November 28, 2011

December 2011 - First Lines

by Susan Berger

I am visiting Kailua on Oahu and I spent a few hours at the library there gathering first lines.

This is not the Library 
Two of these lines are from nominees for the 2012 Nene award. The Nēnē Award is an annual award given by Hawai‘i’s children for the best children’s fiction book. Students in grades 4, 5 and 6 vote. Here is the link to this year's nominees.

I was delighted to see Carolyn Hennesy's book Pandora Gets Jealous on the list. Pen and Ink interviewed Carolyn earlier this year.

Ka'ula, a prospective Nene voter. 
Enjoy these lines and I will post answers and links to the books in a couple of weeks.

1) I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen. 

2) The hat in question was owned by Mrs. Constance Lovestock. Mrs. Lovestock was a woman of some years, even greater means and no children. She was not a woman who did things by half measures. Take her positions on swans. She thought them the most beautiful, graceful creatures in the world. 

3) "PLAY BALL!" called the home plate umpire of Ebbets Field. It was Major League Baseball's Opening Day - April 15, 1947. The Brooklyn Dodgers were playing the Boston Braves. 

4) It was one the most important moments in Nathaniel Fludd's young life and he was stuck sitting in the corner. 

A cautionary Tale by the Witch Fay Holaderry 
I love children. Eating them, that is. 

6) Ah Kee hummed as he carried his basket of guavas. Today was his birthday and Ma was taking him to the market. 

7) Maybe you know. The feeling of how junk it is when summer ends.

8) Around 5:00 a.m. on a warm summer morning in October, 1953, my Aunt Belle left her bed and vanished from the face of the earth.

9) Even as a little girl I had thought that the swamp was a magical place where new lives began and old lives ended, where enemies and heroes weren't always what one expected, and where anything could happen, even to a clumsy princess. 

10) There was once an old and somewhat wise woman whom everyone called Grandy. She’d just suffered a big loss in her life. Pops, her husband, suffered the same loss, but in his own way. This is the story of how Grandy faced her loss by setting out to make tear soup.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Scott Magoon
In Conversation with The Pen And Ink Blogspot

Scott Magoon
by Catherine Lee, Contributor to The Pen And Ink Blogspot
Edit by L. Fernandez

Scott Magoon, Art Director at Houghton Mifflin Books for Children is a Boston man in a publishing industry that finds the time to write and illustrate his own stories. His eclectic sense of style brings heart-warming stories alive.

1. Where do you find your inspirations for your writings and illustrations? Does some of it come from being a father?
Inspiration can come from anywhere for me; I always remind myself that it's a matter of staying open to the possibility. Inspiration is much like anything for which you watch out intently: if you're keeping your eyes peeled for it, you're more likely to recognize it when it comes your way. My boys are definitely a guide for me in making books that kids will love—they are at their most inspiring to me with their expressions and body language and the way they interact with a world that's just a bit too large for them.

2. What is your favorite part of putting a book together? Writing or Illustrating?
Putting me on the spot! For me, I love all aspects of writing (I was an English major, after all) and magic for me comes at the sketch stage where the characters start to come up from the paper and reveal themselves. It's the first manifestation of what the physical book may look like and I find that visual discovery not unlike following a hidden trail in the woods: where does it go?

3. What is it like to be working for a publishing company and also writing/illustrating your own books?
If I didn't love both, I wouldn't be able to do both. I have been blessed to have worked on both sides of the fence for as long as I have with the countless talented people I have—but it means a great deal of time and work as you may imagine. This all comes with a sacrifice for other parts of my life: socially, family, etc. Perhaps most notable, though, is how I still feel as though I'm a bit of an outsider, living in two worlds but never fully in one. That feeling can be liberating or it can be isolating. I like to think this dynamic keeps my inner artist hungry to connect.

4. Can you tell us what your favorite book is that you both written and illustrated? Please tell me a little about your upcoming books?
Man alive! Again—you are putting me on the spot (laughs)! I love all of my books, each for a different reason: one I may like the way I solved the character design; another its the line work I most treasure. Another's colors may work wonders to my eye. I try not to pick and choose my favorites but instead I glean what I learned from each book; its a way of improving for future books. And speaking of which, I have another book with Ugly Fish author Kara LaReau coming from Roaring Brook called Mr. Prickles: A Quill-Fated Love Story just in time for Valentine's day. It's a pointed story about a porcupine who finds his true love. Also, early next year is coming a sequel (well, more like a change in place setting) to Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal called Chopsticks. It's about working together but perhaps more importantly—working on one’s own.

5. What work of yours are you most proud of and why?
My family first and foremost, if I may choose something so unrelated to picture books and my family could be considered 'works.' They certainly are a lot of work, so...hopefully you'll allow me that conceit (laughs). Again, I can't possibly choose one piece of work as they each have tremendous worth to me: technically, creatively and sentimentally.

6. What do you find most exciting about being an author and illustrator? What art method do you work with? And can you tell us a little about how you start and end an illustration? This also goes for writing? Do you find revision fun?
Most exciting thing is seeing kids enjoy my books—which usually come by way of the school visits I do throughout the year. I am blown away and then re-invigorated by their enthusiasm and zeal for my work. I work almost entirely digitally in Photoshop using a Wacom tablet and an iMac, sometimes my iPad to sketch but I almost always prefer sketching on paper. My illustrations are the result of many, many previous drawings; I am not one to draw it once and have it work; instead I need to build up my drawings over time, flip them over, look at them reversed, step back from them see what's working, etc. Writing picture books also doesn't come easily—but follows a very similar process to that of my drawing: many drafts, lots of revisions which I love—when they go well. Which is rarely (laughs).

7.  Do you have a regular work time for you to work only on your writing and illustrating? Or do you doodle whenever you have the time?
I work usually 9-5 at Houghton in Boston then work on my own illustration around 10-12 every weeknight; then for a number of hours on the weekends. Working digitally concentrates the actual production-of-art-time in that there's no time spent cleaning up, mixing paints, etc. I doodle, but I really wish I had more time to doodle. My resolution this year was to do more loose sketching and I have fallen WAY short of that goal, sadly. There's always next year!

8. What advice would you give to authors and illustrators just starting? And as art director, what do you look for?
There is a danger in equating success in this industry with "getting published." I think it can lead to a pub-lust so intoxicating the challenges that lie beyond being published are forgotten: The truth is that being published is merely part of the beginning. A zillion other hurdles await. Steel yourself and take a hard look at the other side of being published as you'll need to be 110% in this if you want it long-term. As an art director I always look for something different, I look for excellent character design and I look for heart, humor and thoughtful composition. It also helps to be easy and collaborative to work with.

9. If you had any one sentence quote what would it be? 
"To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time." Leonard Bernstein said that. I like it.

Watch out for his stories.
I’d like to thank Mr. Magoon for granting me this interview.
For more about Scott Magoon, visit

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What's Wrong With This Query Letter?

by Lupe Fernandez

Don't let this happen to you. 

My comfort food.
What's yours?
Missy, my pet Iguana,
having heart surgery.

That f**king whore that 
my f***king Ex-husband left me for.

Text Translation:
Dear Mr. or Mrs. Agent and or Editor,

I got this manuscript that I’ve worked on a lot time. My critique group says it’s really good and that I should submit it. I’m always wanted to be a writer but I came from a broken home with a terrible childhood, my dog died and my house burned down and the police arrested my sister under the RICO Act. So I’ve had a hard life, but writing is something I really want to do. I haven’t read many books on young adult, but I have a few kids so I write down what they say!!

I know you’re really busy, but if you could find the time to read my novel I’d really appreciate it. I’ll check with you next week to see if you’ve read it. It’s really good. My therapist says it represents the trauma of my childhood and is good to talk about these things!!!

Oh I guess I should probably tell you what it’s about. Well, my novel is a about a girl who really likes this boy but he’s on the lacrosse team and this girl named Mandy Todd – she’s based on my worst enemy from high school Mary Tee – and she like all over him and he doesn’t notice me even though I’m nice and don’t have big boobs and then this teacher, Mr. Hutton, who’s really a unicorn in disgust gives my character advice on how to deal with that lying slut whore Mary Tee. I mean, Mandy Tood!!!!

Enclosed please find some fresh baked organic oatmeal cookies made from free range non-gluten wheat.

Here’s my phone number XXX-XXX-XXXX
My email address

I have my therapy appointment everyday at 11am, so call before 11am because I’m a mess after my session. I’m making great progress on my abandonment issues!!!!

Submit your query letter to
Our well-adjusted writers will review your query letter and send you thoughtful suggestions to avoid embarrassing yourself.

Act now while the offer lasts. Deadline is Midnight November 30th.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How I Got My Kids to Write

by Susan Berger

My sons did not enjoy writing. They loved being read to. Once they could read on their own, Jim headed for comics. Chris preferred scary stories.

But they saw no point in writing. I wanted to change this. When they were little, they would tell me their stories and I would write them down. I wanted MORE stories. 

So I motivated them.I told them I would pay them a penny for every word they wrote in a story. If they went back and reread and edited the story, they would be pad two cents a word instead of a penny. I wanted them to get the idea that revising always paid off.

Before I made this offer, Chris used to write in his school journal "We played a game. We ran." After I made this offer, He started writing longer and longer stories. By the end of his fourth grade year, he was writing thirty five page stories. These were handwritten and we counted every word together. I owed him a lot of money. And I paid it gladly. It was so much fun reading what he wrote. 

When he was nine, he became my writing partner and we wrote Jamie's Dream which was finally published when he was twenty five.
 Chris has a new writing partner now and is working on screenplays, but he’s always ready to read my work and give me advice.

Jim's stories also became much longer and funnier. (And he still loves comics. This year he won the honor of being drawn into a DC comic.

Here he is in Superman Issue 713 He grew into a wonderful natural sounding writer. His movie revues are wonderful. I love to read his posts on FaceBook. I am so grateful to both of them for every word they have written.

It was worth every penny.
Superman Issue 713

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


By Kris Kahrs

The bloggers here at The Pen & Ink Blog are thrilled to announce that this November is the 2nd - yes, you read that right - the second blogiversary of The Pen & Ink Blog. Whoopee! Did I mention we are thrilled? I’ve had goldfish that have not lasted this long. In celebration of this momentous occasion, in a moment of wild abandon and breathy adoration (except for Lupe, who feels this sentence involves entirely too much bodice ripping) of you our devoted readers, we humbly offer:




(Ha! Try saying that five times fast.) 

2011 is almost over and what better way to start off 2012 than to revamp your query letter with a fresh critique from a new set of eyes? Send us a one page query for your manuscript’s pitch anytime between November 1st and November 30th and we will pinch, prod, harangue, opine and generally read and critique it for you. Your submissions will remain private and confidential and neither query nor critique will be shared on The Pen & Ink Blog. All genres are welcomed, whether the manuscript is a picture book text, early reader, middle-grade or young adult.

Did I mention it’s free? Yes, it is, because that’s just the way we roll here, however….if you could maybe, ‘like’ The Pen & Ink Blog or ‘like’ our FB page or become a follower or give us a link on your website or blog or… well, you get the idea.

Only one submission per author please. We cannot guarantee you instant success, but if you do get a contract, we will claim the credit for it. Act Now! Don’t Delay! The Pen & Ink Blog is standing by.

Send your queries to: and we will try to turn it around faster than you can say SCBWI.