Monday, April 29, 2013

Muse Hunting Plus a Giveaway

Nancy Stewart
by Susan Berger

Pen and Ink welcomes Guest Blogger, Nancy Stewart.

Enter to win a copy of Bella Saves The Beach by leaving a comment at the end of the post.

What is it about muses? I know they take their work seriously, and yet conjuring up mine can be quite a chore at times.
I almost always search for her at the computer. She’s usually there, but not today.  Sometimes she hides in my Favorites List.  But not today.  How about the Homepage?  Nope.  One more try my lists of guest posts.  Occasionally she will transform herself into a bright new post from an old one.  Today, no such luck.
Not one to give up, I go to the gym.  Strangely enough, she hangs out there.  And usually her gym ideas are good ones, full of life and vigor.  She particularly likes the elliptical.  Actually, so do I.  But after 20 minutes of trying to coax her to visit, I give up and move to other machines where I’ve never seen her ply her magic.
On the way home, I stop by the bookstore.  I congratulate myself on a stroke of genius.  She can’t not be there, I tell myself.  It’s a muse kind of place, after all.  She’s not there.  Not even in the kids’ books section.  She’s always in the kids’ books section.  Copying ideas, I tell her, but she rejects that notion.
Ah, well.  I give up.  I’ve learned there’s no future in sleuthing after a muse that does not want to be detected.  So home I go.
I consider the computer a lost cause, so I opt for a glass of iced tea and a comfy chair.  And then, like a tiny bee buzzing in my brain, she’s here.  She speaks of Bella and Britt and empowering kids, of a middle grade novel set in Africa, of a chapter book series.
My muse is such a tease.  But when she gets down to business, there’s no stopping her!  Today, I’m just happy she visited, threw out a couple of notions then left me to ruminate. 
What is it about muses?  I still haven’t figured out that answer.  But I’m happy I have one! 

Thank you, Nancy for stopping by as part of your blog tour for Bella Saves the Beach written by Nancy and Illustrated by Samantha Bell.
Bella and Britt are worried about all the trash appearing on their beautiful beach.  But what can they do?  Britt is leaving on vacation, and Bella can’t solve the problem alone.  Without adults to lend a hand, can they possibly save their beach?
Excerpt from Bella Saves the Beach:
Bella, Britt and all their friends built sand castles and filled moats with salty sea. But this summer, the girls were worried.
         “Look at all this trash, Britt,” said Bella.
          She nodded. “Yeah, and I leave on vacation tomorrow. I can’t help pick it up!”
Next morning, Bella walked along the beach alone. “Hello.” Bella said to the old crooked beak pelican, perched on his piling. “Somebody has to help, and I guess it’s me.”
 Bella is the newest book in the Bella and Britt series. The opening book of the series, One Pelican at a Time, was the first book published on the Gulf Oil Spill.
You can purchase the PDF download (huge bargain) at GUARDIAN ANGEL PUBLISHING 
Or you can buy the paperback or hardcover at AMAZON or  BARNES AND NOBLE
Our lucky winner will receive an eBook copy of Bella Saves The Beach.  Leave a comment below to enter. We've turned on anonymous commenting this week to make it easy for you to enter. Please leave a contact email address (i.e. sueberger3 at aol dot com)in the comment so we can reach you.
Visit Nancy at or at her blog.
Pen and Ink is delighted to be a stop on Nancy’s Blog Tour. You can catch up with her tomorrow at  Write What Inspires You.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Dispatch #6 - Visit to SCRAP

by Lupe Fernandez
SCRAP Entrance

"Wow! Look at all this stuff!"

That was my first reaction when entering SCRAP (Scrounger’s Center for Reusable Art Parts). According to their website, "SCRAP is a non-profit creative reuse center, materials depot, and workshop space founded in 1976 in San Francisco, California."

Here's a meager list of things I had found:

SCRAP Interior
Gift Wrap Paper, Easter Grass, Wigs, Board Games, Computer Cases, Wall Paper, Sponges, Corks, Rolled Fabric, Stock Photos, Door Hardware, Small Interesting Shapes, Road Maps, CDs, Foam, Frame Glass, Tiles, Centra Board, Plastic Microscope Pieces, Buttons, Disco Balls, Chocolate Boxes (Just the boxes, no chocolate) and Gravel Trays of 1930 Union Oil Samples.

So what does this have to do with Children's Literature and/ or writing?

SCRAPS. Scraps. Bits and pieces seemingly discarded items that at one time served a purpose, each could be matched to a moment, a memory and mood. As a writer, I draw upon the smell of smoke, the sight of a cloud, the taste of an orange, the sound of a siren and the feel of skin. From these disparate elements, I form an idea, a word, a sentence, a paragraph and a story.

But don't take my word for it. Fellow SCBWI member, Katherine Taylor, Outreach Coordinator for SCRAP since September 2012, bought a thick book at the depot, found the images among the magazines and created a picture book for her three year old son.

He liked it.

36 Animals

Katherine, with a background in environmental science, works at obtaining donations for SCRAP from individuals and local businesses.

Katherine Taylor
"We are on the radar of places like the Moscone Center, Timbuk2, Marriott and other hotels, Levi's, and local museums."

SCRAP accepts manufactured and natural materials that can be used by artists and teachers. "We want things like office supplies, paper products, glass, wood, fabric, and metal parts. We like to get things in bulk for teachers to use in their classrooms. Check our website or e-mail us to make sure we accept what you have to donate."
On a board I saw a listing of some of the following Classroom Activity Projects: CD Tops, Testing Viscosity, Model Hermatocritt, Huchol Yarn Act and Game Lotto.

"We have big paper needs," Katherine says,
"Teachers don't get enough."
By the way, if you know a stockpile of telephone wire, Katherine wants to talk to you.

"Mixed-media artists can do a lot with it. They love wire. Also, it's good for kids' activities."

I recall a writing exercise where the instructor showed us an object and told the class to write for five uninterrupted minutes about said object.

What is it?
What did it mean? Did it conjure up a childhood memory? Could we imagine who might have owned it? Who was the cat flying the plane?

"What's the weirdest donation you ever received at SCRAP?" I asked Katherine.

Kat once picked up a "pregnant mannequin from the Gap." Such oddities go fast. Some days SCRAP has a pregnant mannequin and then the next, the mannequin is gone.

Scraps of characters, plot, themes can be donated into the depository of this writer's mind one bright windy day in San Francisco, and then disappear the next if I don't write them down.

Buttons. Sorry not actual gold.
As a writer, I must sift through mental shelves of discarded material, donated anonymously by time and circumstance, and find the gold.

While you browse through your own depot, I encourage you dear reader to visit SCRAP, either in person or via their website:

I'd like to thank Katherine for showing me around the SCRAP depot.

In honor of Earth Day, SCRAP will participate in the Night Life at the California Academy of Sciences on Thursday, April 25th.

Monday, April 15, 2013


by Kris Kahrs

Here are some inspired links to set your Monday on the right path to a fun week.  Some of these you can experience now, some are events you can experience today or tomorrow and others are just good to know.

Mo' Mo Willems?
PW's Shelftalker has The Best Mo Willems Book You Haven't Read by Elizabeth Bluemle.

Have you ever heard of "Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator!"?  I hadn't until I had read this post by author Bluemle.  It's adorable and relatively obscure.  Dig it up and read to your favorite four-year-old.

Did You Know?
The Write Deal  Publishing the New Century - A group of professional editors and writers who are on it.  They are the 'fastest growing new generation e-book publisher and retailer'.  The Write Deal publishes e-leafs.  An 'E-leaf is the future of the ebook. E-leafs are very short, short or longer works in any genre, or serialized excerpts from completed or ongoing projects. E-leafs extend an author's reach into the book market in exciting new ways, and delight and energize readers with works that are fresh from their source.' 

Agent -
Ginger Clark
Gretchen McNeil on Ginger Clark - Agent
Over at author, Gretchen McNeil's website, Seanchai, she has a marvelous interview with her literary agent, Ginger Clark.  This informative piece will come in handy because Ginger is one of several agents who will be presenting at the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles in August this year!  Both of these women have a lot to offer writers so read up.
Today & Tomorrow: Events
The Magic Tree House Live Reading Tour will be in Los Angeles this week on April 16th at 10:00 a.m. at Vroman's Book Store in Pasadena, then at 2:00 p.m. over to Mayfield Junior School.  The following day on April 17th, the Reading Tour will be at The Barnes & Noble Bookstore at 11:00 a.m. on the 3rd Street Promenade.  Take your fan of the Magic Tree House series to these live events.  Get all the details at the Random House website

Yeehaw!  That's the weekly roundup, folks.  Enjoy from The Pen and Ink Blog!

Monday, April 8, 2013

In Conversation with Author Sarah Wynde


Sarah Wynde
by Susan Berger

Meet Sarah Wynde. Self published author of the delightful novel, A Gift of Ghosts.

Akira Malone believes in the scientific method, evolution, and Einstein’s theory of relativity. And ghosts. All the logic and reason in the world can’t protect her from the truth—she can see and communicate with spirits. But Akira is sure that her ability is just a genetic quirk and the ghosts she encounters simply leftover electromagnetic energy. Dangerous electromagnetic energy. Zane Latimer believes in telepathy, precognition, auras, and that playing Halo with your employees is an excellent management technique. He also thinks that maybe, just maybe, Akira can help his family get in touch with their lost loved ones. But will Akira ever be able to face her fears and accept her gift? Or will Zane’s relatives be trapped between life and death forever?

As soon as I finished reading A Gift of Ghosts and its sequel, A Gift of Thought.  I contacted Sarah through her website. I wanted to know when the next book would be out and I wanted to know how she produced such an excellent self- published book. I loved these books so much that after buying them on Kindle, I also purchased hard copies so I could lend them to my friends who don't have a Kindle App.

Why did you decide to self publish? 
I never made any attempt to get traditionally published, because...well, I think I listed my reasons once as "time (mine), money (yours), and freedom." Doing the whole query letter/agent search takes a lot of hours that I'd rather use writing. And I like the price of self-published books. I like the idea that they are a treat like a Starbucks latte, instead of a movie. But mostly I like the freedom to do things that traditional publishers would have a hard time with, such as mix-and-matching genres and letting my hero not be very heroic.

Did you use an editor?
Ooh, trick question. First of all, if you’re thinking of self-publishing, you should definitely consider hiring an editor. Editors are great and a wonderful way to both improve your work and learn ways to make your writing stronger. That said, I didn’t use an editor.

Here’s what I did instead: first, I published all the chapters as I wrote them to, giving me a chance to get feedback as I wrote. Next, I published a few chapters to and sent the full book to anyone who expressed interest. I had four or five beta reads that way, from people who had no relationship to me and wouldn’t be afraid to tell me where they saw problems. I also sent the early drafts to everyone I knew who was willing to read it: my sister-in-law, my sister, and a couple of friends all read my manuscript and told me when they had issues. When I’d reached the stage where I thought I might self-publish, I ran all the chapters through an online editing program, specifically That helped me notice word repetitions, over-used phrases, weak sentence structure and sometimes grammatical issues. Finally, I read the entire book out loud, twice. If I’d been truly dedicated, I would have read the book backwards, which is a great way to notice mistakes that you’ll otherwise miss. The reason I know that last trick is because I used to be an editor – reading backwards is a proofing style that I used on books which included computer code, where a minor error such as a misplaced comma could cause major problems for a reader.

As a former editor, I absolutely believe in the value that a professional editor can add to your work. I didn’t hire one myself mostly because I was a struggling graduate student with no budget for my writing hobby. And also – well, I’m terrible at commas. I place them practically at random. But apart from that, I’m a bit of a perfectionist. (People who know my work as an editor are scoffing madly at the “a bit” in that sentence.) I put a lot of time, energy, and experience into making my books as close to perfect as I could. Going forward, I’d love to find an editor to work with, but I’m always going to rely on my own obsessiveness as the final line of defense against typos and other errors.

How did you choose your cover artist? How much does this cost?
Another trick question! I made my own covers. In Powerpoint, no less. For the first book, A Gift of Ghosts, I used a photograph that was in the public domain. For the second and third, A Gift of Thought and A Gift of Time (not yet out), I spent $10 each on photos from Shutterstock.
Again, I had an advantage: I worked as an acquisitions editor for a traditional publisher for ten years, so I’d spent a lot of time in cover design meetings. Even better, the imprints that I worked with were focused on graphic design, so I’d worked with a lot of designers. Many self-publishers worry about trying to make their cover convey the entire story, but I focused on having a simple, clear image that would look good in a thumbnail, with typography that would be readable but also represent (as much as possible) the genre of the stories. My covers aren’t perfect and someday I might see what a professional designer could do for them, but for now, they work for me.

Which company did you choose to do it through?
I published digitally through Amazon and in print through CreateSpace. I keep thinking that I should broaden my horizons and expand to some other distributors, but at the moment, I’m mostly focused on writing.

Did Amazon help you in any way with a mailing list? Do any publicizing?
Any giveaways?
Nope, nope, and nope. I am enrolled in KDP Select, so I can set the books to be free for five days out of every 90 and I’ve done that, but that’s all I’ve done.

How much time do you spend marketing the book?
I haven't done any publicity. I'm terrible at Facebook and Twitter and all that stuff, I never know what you're supposed to say. I know most successful authors highly recommend doing a mailing list, so I put my email address on my website, but I haven't really pushed the list or even gotten organized about it. (People are apparently more likely to sign up if they can just enter their name into a field, instead of sending an email, so you're supposed to use a widget.) In other words, I think I'm probably as bad at publicity as an author could be.

That said, one important element of good marketing is the blurb, the marketing copy that sells the book online. I see a lot of books by self-published authors where the blurb is basically the type of synopsis that you’d write for a query letter. I think that’s a huge mistake. A blurb shouldn’t tell the story: it should raise questions that the prospective reader will want to discover the answers to. If I was going to give a single piece of advice to fellow self-published authors, it would be to spend more time on their blurbs. For my blurbs, I’ve written and re-written and edited and revised and edited again – and I’ll probably continue tweaking them. I’m pretty happy with the blurb for A Gift of Ghosts now, but I still think I can do better on my other blurbs.

How did you get reviews?
When I first set A Gift of Ghosts to be free via KDP, I told all of my online connections about it. I wrote a fanfic and left a note at the end saying that the book would be free on Amazon; I mentioned it on a post at and in an online mom’s group; and I posted a note on my Facebook page. I even told my WoW guild. And I asked for reviews. Of my first twenty reviews or so, I know that at least five came from people who’d been reading my fanfic for a while and another four came from people who’d read chapters via critiquecircle. One was from a fellow WoW player, another two were from fellow moms. A few more were from people that I know in person – a friend, a cousin, a co-worker.

People in the self-publishing community disparage “friends and family” reviews, but my background is in traditional publishing. Our expectation was generally that all the first reviews of a book are going to come from people who are connected in some way with the author, usually because the author sent them review copies. But we don’t assume – or at least as an acquisitions editor, I never assumed – that people are going to lie just because they know someone. To the best of my knowledge, every person who wrote an early review of Ghosts did so honestly. Would they have reviewed it if they hadn’t been acquainted with me online? Probably not, because they wouldn’t have known about it or read it.

Beyond those first messages, though, I haven't tried to get people to review it, because it always feels so awkward to ask. I think I put a note in A Gift of Thought asking people to write reviews and then took it out and republished because it just felt weird to me to ask strangers who have paid money to then give me their time and energy.

A number of readers felt the book was good enough to warrant their time and energy.  You have 114 reviews on Amazon for A Gift of Ghosts. 76 are five star and 34 are four star, as of this interview.   You have another 55 reviews for A Gift of Thought. 34 are five star and 21 are four star.
Yep! The reviews are both unexpected and really nice. Writing for me is a labor of love – I do it because it’s fun. Knowing that someone else has enjoyed the results is glorious icing on a tasty cake.

Fifteen years ago, I earned my living as a freelance writer. Then I sat down, looked at the numbers, and promptly went and found myself a job as an editor. Writing is a lovely hobby, but it’s a brutal career. I’ll be absolutely delighted if I can make a living at it someday, but the Tassamara stories are for pleasure, mine and (I hope) yours.

Are you satisfied with the sales?
Self-publishing is really easy if you don't take it very seriously, and I didn't.  I figured I'd sell 20 copies of Ghosts to the people I knew who'd read it, mostly friends I'd met online from writing
fan fiction, and then maybe the occasional sale after that from someone who stumbled upon it on Amazon. I'm a single mom and was in grad school on a very tight budget, so my idea was that any money I got from selling Ghosts would buy us the occasional treat--gingerbread
lattes at Starbucks, I hoped.

My plan, to the extent that I had one, was to write a million words that I was willing to share with other people, and at the end of that, decide whether writing was something I wanted to try to make money at again. Fast-forward a year, and between both books, I've sold about 3700 copies and made over $9000. Am I satisfied? Absolutely!

That’s a lot of lattes!
Seriously! Not to mention the calories. At 320 a pop, I had to quit drinking my book sales a while ago!!

A treat for you, dear readers!  
Sarah is generously making today one of her Free Days on Amazon. So click on the link for A Gift of Ghosts and grab your free copy. You do not need to own a Kindle to take advantage of this offer. Kindle has free apps for all your electronic devices. I have Kindle on my PC, ipad and Droid phone. (great for reading in long lines.)  If you enjoy the book, please consider writing her a review on Amazon as a thank you.

The Management would like to thank Sarah Wynde for granting this interview and for the gift of a free day on Amazon..
For more of Sarah Wynde, visit her website:

Monday, April 1, 2013

This Could Happen To You!

Cape Canaveral, Florida
by Lupe Fernandez

Yes, it's true. I'm famous. I owe it all to my writing. Allow me to tell this tale of fortitude, frostbite and Frosted Flakes.

So I was minding my business at Cape Canaveral, grooving at all the rockets and gantries and trying not to weep with joy, when I encountered none other than that famous television thespian, Mariska Hargitay.

Mariska Hargitay
aka Olivia Benson
Before I could say "hand cuff me please", we got to talking about Law & Order SUV (I was bummed that Chris Meloni was off the show, but I still watched the show.) and that conversation segued to children's literature.

Me: What? You read picture books to your kids?

Ms. Hargitay - I'm too respectful to call her by her first name - said her kids loved them.

Me: I write picture books.

I actually concentrate on young adult and middle grade, but I wasn't about to pass up on this chance to pitch.

Ms. Hargitay asked me what I was working on.

Me: I wrote this picture book about two cats. The older brother cat tries to convince his younger brother cat that they have taken a trip into outer space via a cardboard box.

Ms. Hargitay asked me where she could buy a copy.

CCCP Office
Me: It's not published. I'm still looking for a publisher.

Well, before I could say "read me my Miranda Rights", Ms. Hargitay gave me the number of the CCCP Company. This publisher caters to writers who love chocolate chip cookies.

I thanked Ms. Hargitay for the tip and took the next plane to Romita, Mexico and visit the CCCP offices. I met with the staff and showed them my work. I retold the tail of two cats blasting off from Earth, landing on Mars - it's one big litter box for cats - and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean, and we all know how much cats hate water.

Art Work for Two Cats In a Box
They were so excited, though my Spanish is rudimentary, my work was rushed to the printer in China. After a long sea voyage and several typhoons, the books arrived back at the CCCP Office. Two Cats in a Box debuted in Romita and the city celebrated it's success.

Needless to say, once Two Cats In a Box hit the world market, the rave reviews flooded my mail box.

If I may be modest, here's a few comments culled from the many responses to Two Cats In a Box from my legion of fans, followers and debit collectors:

Adoring Fans
"I'm sorry, who are you?"

"I'm calling the police."

"How did you get this address?"

"Am I on a reality show?"


"See that tall man over there? He's my bodyguard and he's going to ****** you over if you don't leave."

Tikal, Guatemala
I know, I know. You're thinking, "this could never happen to me." But keep the faith dear reader. Such things are possible. Just repeat after me: "I love chocolate chip cookies. I would never knowingly by my actions or in-actions bring harm to a chocolate chip cookie. I shall hold no other cookie before the chocolate chip."

Keep these simple words in mind and you too will succeed.

Well, that's all for now. I'm off to Guatemala to earn a well rested vacation amid the spectacular ruins of Tikal, and to elude a process server.