Author Interview: Ann Dee Ellis


Originally posted on April 18, 2014

Spending time with Ann Dee Ellis is never boring as you will see from her interview. The year I attended her workshop is a memorable one full of learning, laughter, tender moments and lasting friendships. Every WIFYR experience has taught me something new and helped me become a stronger writer. One thing I learn from Ann Dee was about finding the voice of your character. We are fortunate to have her teaching a mini-workshop on that topic, on Friday, June 20 at the WIFYR conference.

Ann Dee is part of the great blogging team at Throwing up Words.

Q:  Ann Dee, do you have a writing ritual – a particular location, a certain time of day, etc?

A:  I write in my bed, in the middle of the day, while my baby and my two year old sleep. I try not to eat too much candy but sometimes it can’t be helped. Red Vines, peach rings, and if I’m really having a hard time, chocolate covered cinnamon bears from the BYU bookstore. Sometimes I feel bad about all the candy but other times I remember as a child dreaming of the day I could drive myself to the grocery story and buy myself as much candy as I wanted. That day has arrived.

I also enjoy writing in remote cottages on the beach. I think. I wish. One day.

Q:  What were some of your favorite books as a child?

A: I loved Drummerhof. I loved The Little House. I loved The Funny Little Woman.

My mom would read to us at night in her gigantic waterbed that would slosh around when you climbed on it. She read us The Secret Garden, Little House on the Prairie, Charlotte’s Web, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, and a novel about a Native American tribe that had a ritual where if two men wanted the same woman, they would each take an arm and pull. The one who truly loved the woman would finally give up and let her go so that she wouldn’t be hurt. This was romantic. Except when neither let go. Then it was sad.

When I was a teenager, I loved Louise Plummer’s books. I cried my face off in the basement bedroom while reading the Romantic Obsessions and Humiliations of of Annie Sehlmeier. 

Q:  What do you do when you aren’t writing?

A:  I sit on the heater with my kids and color. Sometimes I put make up on. Other times I draw on the sidewalk. Sometimes I teach college students. Or make them cry. I go to church and walk around the halls. I talk to people and watch them.

Q:  Of all the characters you’ve created, which is your favorite and why?

A:  My Mazzy from Everything is Fine. I love her. I feel like she’s been neglected and she doesn’t deserve it. She’s brave and she’s weird and she puts oranges in her bra and she yells at boys and does yoga and eats marshmallows and watches Oprah and I love her. I miss her and I love her.

Q:  What is the hardest part of writing for you?

A:  Letting go.

This is my favorite part about writing and also the hardest. Especially when I have limited time.

When you have so little time to write, you don’t want to waste it. You want every minute to count.

That’s a problem because when you create, you need the space to mess up, to go the wrong way, to write big chunks of lovely that will later be cut. You need the freedom to laugh and be ridiculous and try new things and not worry about what you mother or editor or fancy writing friend might think.

Writing is a mind game. It’s about letting go when everything tells you to hold on. To control it. To plan it. To make it good. The hardest part of writing is letting it be bad or weird or nothing. Just writing.

Q:  What makes you laugh?

A:  My boys. All five of them.

Q:  Can you tell us about what you are working on?

A:  A book about a girl and a boy and a trailer park.

Blog Tour and Interview: Sherry Meidell


Originally posted on March 20, 2014.

Illustrator, Sherry Meidell, will present a Mini-Workshop on Tuesday, June 17 at Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers. With a collection of illustrated books and an intriguing topic, Stepping into Your Picture, her workshop is sure to be a treat to those who attend.

Read the interview below to learn more about this fabulous illustrator. Follow the blog tour to see some of what Sherry is working on and read the WIFYR guest post.

Welcome Sherry!

Q:  What influenced you to illustrate and write books for kids?

A:  In elementary school I would get lost in book illustrations. I studied them and the stories they told. At night I stared at the ceiling of my room and imagine faces made by the shadows there. When we would go up to my grandparents house I would study the Saturday Evening Post covers by the great illustrators of the day. I suppose that early love of art sent me in the direction of illustrating children’s books and wanting to create my own stories. `

Q:  Do you have an illustration ritual ? a particular location, a certain time of day, etc?

A:  I have a studio in my house. After a bit of morning reading and excercise, I love to head up to the studio. The morning sun will come in the windows and set the mood for a nice day of illustrating. I always have projects going whether it’s a book dummy I’m working on or a watercolor to paint or another story to work on.

Q:  Who are some of the writers and illustrators you most admire?

A:  I love the illustrations of Jerry Pinkney. I have a nice collection of the books he has illustrated. I also love N. C. Wyeth and Norman Rockwell and Beatrix Potter.

Q:  What illustrating advice do you have for emerging illustrators?

A:  One of the best tools any artist can have is a sketch book and a pen. It should be with you almost always to capture things that are around you. They strengthen you muscle memory and skill. They are a valuable place to keep ideas and memories.

Q:  What have been some of the greatest moments in your life?

A:  Great moments come every day. This life is filled with beauty.

Q:  What makes you laugh?

A:  I seem to get laughing at times when it is not acceptable to laugh which usually makes me shake uncontrollably and laugh harder. In my younger days, I was in a musical of the Wizard of Oz. I was one of the munchkin lullaby league. There were three of us on stage. It was time for us to sing our song. We represent the lullaby league, the lullaby league the…….. and it hit. Two of the lullaby league hung their heads with uncontrollable giggles and the other girl sang a very nice solo. Was I the one singing the solo so nicely? No I was the one who giggled through the song and most of the night.

Q:  Can you tell us about what you are working on?

A:  A book dummy. :)

(Note: A book dummy is a mock-up of your book, meant to show editors the layout.)

Interview with Shawn K. Stout

ShawnStout-4EditWebsize-199x300This year’s Middle Grade Workshop will be led by Shawn K. Stout, author of six middle grade books including three in the successful Penelope Crumb series. The most recent of these was named as a Bankstreet Best Book of 2013.

As a child, Shawn loved making things up (she says there’s a good one she used to tell about stickball, bloodhounds, and cow pies – hopefully she’ll elaborate in her class). She still makes things up, though she’s a bit more deliberate nowadays. Shawn loves sharing what she’s learned with other writers, and she’s excited to join the WIFYR faculty in 2014. Recently we had the chance to ask her a few questions about her own writing.

penelopeWhat influenced you to write books for kids?

After about a decade of jobs that left me feeling unsatisfied, and, frankly, bored, I decided I needed more creativity in my life. I had written a lot throughout my youth but I never had the courage to admit to myself (or anyone else) that I wanted to be a writer. So, I stopped writing for a time—enter unfulfilling jobs—and then finally, on a whim, decided to take a writing class. What came out, during the first writing exercise, was a 10-year-old’s voice. At that point, I knew I wanted to write books for kids and I flung myself headfirst into this amazing world of children’s literature.

Do you have a writing ritual – a particular location, a certain time of day, etc?

I have a toddler and a full-time day job, so it would make sense for me carve out a set time for writing, but the truth is: I don’t. I write whenever I have some spare time and am not too exhausted – on my lunch break at the office, after my daughter goes to bed, first thing in the morning.

What do you do when you aren’t writing?

When I’m not writing, I’m hanging out with my family or playing with my daughter. Or doing dishes. I mean, the amount of dirty dishes in our sink is incredible.

What is the hardest part of writing for you?

Everything except naming characters and coming up with an extremely vague notion of the story. Ugh, plot. Does there have to be plot?

What writing advice do you have for emerging writers?

Keep writing, keep reading, keep going.

Can you tell us about what you are working on?

Right now I’m working on a middle grade piece of historical fiction about sisters, who on the eve of WWII, set out to prove that their father is not a German spy.

That sounds amazing! We’re excited to see that on the shelves.

We’re so lucky to have Shawn at WIFYR this year. Be sure to visit her website here, and go watch the trailer for the Penelope Crumb series here.

Follow Us On Pinterest

As a kindergarten teacher, I’ve learned that my students do much better when I SHOW them how to do something, as opposed to when I TELL them how to do something. As a writer, the same rule applies. I need to show my reader that my character crossed her arms and scrunched up her face rather than tell my reader that my character was angry.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to recognize the difference. In fact, there are so many things to remember when it comes to good writing, that it can seem overwhelming.
Well, the staff here at WIFYR wanted to give you a little help, so we opened a Pinterest account where we’re gathering tips, tricks, and even a few funny jokes.

How, you ask, can Pinterest help me as a writer?

1. Pinterest is visual. When you’re looking at a picture on our account, you can think about description, visualize action, and generate writing prompts.

2. Pinterest is for virtual hoarders. As both a teacher and a writer, I’m constantly stashing away ideas and bits of information to save for later, whether in my head or in a desk drawer. Pinterest helps me keep those ideas organized on my computer screen. And now the WIFYR Pinterest account will serve as a resource for you to hoard anything that has to do with writing!

3. Pinterest helps you connect. By following WIFYR on Pinterest, you’ll connect with other writers, and maybe even get inspired to write that best-seller!

Follow us on on Pinterest and see what we’re all about:

Kris Chandler and Beginning of Blog Tour


Our blog tour begins today at Kris Chandler’s Stories! Robin Johnson, one of our WIFYR assistants has posted as a guest. Visit her blog.

In conjunction with that we would like to treat you to an interview with Kris. This is the second year she has been part of the WIFYR faculty.

Watch for the next visit on our blog tour next Wednesday. Other authors and illustrators we’ll be dropping in on are Ken Baker, Carol Lynch Williams, A.E. Cannon, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Robinson Wells, Jennifer Nielsen and Sherry Meidel.

Drumroll please!

Here’s Kristin.
What influenced you to write books for kids?

Voice. I guess I’m not sure why my voice is naturally too young to vote, but I’m sure it’s something I should ask someone about it.  Honestly, I love the fearlessness and vulnerability that people have before they get too set in their lives.

Do you have a writing ritual – a particular location, a certain time of day, etc?

I write most creatively when I’m too blurry-eyed to think about what a foolhardy venture I’m on. I revise best the moment my children walk out the door for school. My mother always said I would do anything to avoid doing the dishes.

What were some of your favorite books as a child?

I read The Secret Garden in what felt like one breath. After that I started reading obsessively even though I was a slow reader. The more I read the faster I got and it sort of snowballed.

What do you do when you aren’t writing?

I write non-fiction for two non-profits and I’m a mom. Other than that I teach horseback riding lessons, do endurance sports and mess around outdoors with my family. I love to read.

What is the most important part of writing for you?

Remembering it’s not about me.

Writing Conferences

By Stephanie Moore

I was a closet writer. I could count on one hand the number of people that knew I liked to write. Then I finished my first manuscript and I was proud of it. *Happy Dance*

One night I read the first chapter aloud to my husband and he said, “If the ending doesn’t suck, it could be really good.” (Love you, Honey!) That gave me the confidence I needed to let trusted friends read the manuscript. After a couple revisions and lots of deep breaths, those precious pages were in someone else’s hands. And guess what? Shock! They enjoyed it too.

Then I thought, what’s next?

I fired up Google and found out about writing conferences. There was a local event, here in Salt Lake City, Writing for Charity, where participates get a full day of classes and a one page critique with a published author. I was terrified! The thought of strangers reading even one page made my stomach ache.

Once it started, my writing life changed forever. I made new friends, found a critique group and discovered that the book community is extremely supportive.  Then I followed up with WIFYR a few months later.

Those conferences were a turning point in my writing career, where I realized writing could be something more than a creative outlet. And now all my friends know and many have read that manuscript, which will hopefully be published someday.

Have you experienced that turning point? If so, what was the catalyst for you?

Guest Blogger Viewpoint: A WIFYR Workshop Experience

Today Stephanie Kelley blogs about her experience at the WIFYR Conference last June: 

I had the honor of going to Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers this last June,
including a 4-hour workshop with Martine Leavitt each morning for five days.
Here’s a sample of my journal a few days before WIFYR 2013 started:
I’m preparing for a writing workshop that I’ll be going to all next week–a gift for my
birthday. I’m so happy–I’ll get to go to class with Martine Leavitt, one of my idols who
lives in Canada. She also teaches at Vermont College, so it will be like taking a Master’s
writing course. What could be better?
Yes, I was excited. I marched into class the first day, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ,
ready to take on the world (cliche-alert). By the third day I was breaking down into
random fits of crying–and we hadn’t even critiqued my pages yet.

That came Thursday.

The critique was difficult yes, but I surprised myself by being able to learn from it and
move on. By the end of the week I was exhausted.

Here is a sample of my journal a few days later:
Today I’m coming down with a cold. No fun. But not surprising considering the crazy
schedule I’ve had this week: wake at 6:30 and do homework, 8:30 get to Waterford
School for class with Martine Leavitt. Lunch at 12:30, class from 2 to 5, then go home
and try to do what needs to be done at home.
Note there is no eulogizing about the conference being over. I did walk away knowing
my manuscript needed some–no, a lot–of work.

I mention how I felt because I think no real growth occurs without a little pain. All the
stretching was worth it, though. My writing changed for the better in a relatively short
time–one week.

Here’s a sample of the things that Martine taught us that have helped me the most:

Characters need to have a strong desire line–emotional and concrete–that pull the reader through the whole book.

Make descriptions work double duty: setting the scene and communicating the state of mind of the character at the same time.

Metaphor! Small metaphors to describe settings and people and big metaphors to
describe emotions or intense events in the character’s life.

One of my favorite quotes that Martine shared was, “Nothing bad that happens to you
goes to waste.”
Two days later there was severe flooding in Calgary where Martine lives, which
damaged her house and caused her husband to be evacuated in the shovel of a large
That’s something I’ll never forget!

She is an amazing writer and teacher and I feel lucky to have been able to be in her
class. Thanks, Martine!

Ten Top Tips for Improving Your Writing

We’ve asked some of those who attended last June’s Writing and Illustrating for Young Reader’s Conference to share favorite writing tips from the conference. In this post, members of Martine Leavitt’s Morning Workshop* give some of the WIFYR writing hints that helped them the most. In no particular order, here are the first ten:

  • From Lee Ann Layton Setzer: “Page 1 is worth 10 pages of any other page. Chapter 1 is worth 10 times any other chapter. If it’s on page 1, you set up the expectation it’s important.”
  • Why we want the main character to be the catalyst: “I don’t care about grownups as much as about kids. Adults are smart–we assume they can figure things out.”
  • From Heather Dial Baird:  “As a writer, you serve others by becoming a voice for those who can’t tell their own stories.
  • From Martine’s class on metaphor: “With the use of figurative language, the reader gets to participate in the construction of the story.” And “You don’t tell the reader how your character feels, you draw it out of everything around her.”
  • [Something gained] from [Lance Larsen’s] keynote address: “Write something that will be good for 100 years.”
  • From Christine Hall Johnson: Readers need to know either the internal tension or the external tension from page 1.
  • If your character feels sorry for herself, then the reader doesn’t have to.
  • Every character in your book needs to want something. Every character has a story, and there should be a reason the character is in the book.
  • LOVE LOVE LOVE the whole concept of controlling belief! It took me the whole conference to really understand it, but it makes so much sense now! The definition for controlling belief–what your character believes he/she needs to do to meet his/her emotional needs.
  • This quote from Sharlee Glenn’s afternoon workshop: “Push yourself beyond when you think you are done. Go a little further. Sometimes when you think you are done, it is just the edge of beginning.” –Natalie Goldberg

*Unless another faculty member is credited, these tips are from Martine Leavitt.

Look for the rest of the tips from Martine’s class, soon to come.

A Few Conference Highlights

It was a great week at WIFYR. Here are a few highlights.

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Alyson Heller from Aladdin Books, an imprint at Simon and Schuster answers questions in the morning class taught by J. Scott Savage. I hear they had some “Savage Reviews” in that class.

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Agent Steven Fraser charmed us all as he shared many insights on the publishing industry. He said in one morning workshop, “I can’t wait to get up [in the morning] and sell a book and get it into the hands of a child somewhere.”

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And the lovely Ammi-Joan Paquette, our other agent, also shared precious tidbits of wisdom. She said, “Your best strength is going to be to tell the story only you can tell.”

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Some conference attendees who wanted more time to critique and improve their craft participated in the Brown Bag Critique at lunchtime.

What was your favorite part of the conference?




WIFYR Success Stories, Part 2

Earlier on the blog we featured several writers who got their start at WIFYR. This week we’ll start off with some stories from some of our resident illustrators, as well as many more from past attendees. We hope you enjoy their inspiring stories!books

A few years ago Jed Henry had never been published. He’d been an artist all his life, studying art in college and graduating from a prestigious animation program. But though he enjoyed his schooling, his true aspiration was to become a children’s illustrator. The problem was, he didn’t know where to start. That’s when oneof his friends told him about WIFYR conference.  He says, “Attending [WIFYR] was my first step into the world of publishing.  Before the conference, I had no idea what I was getting into.  But during that week of workshops and classes, I learned a lot.  Most importantly, I made connections that lead to other opportunities.”

After the conference, Henry had his hands full. He writes, “I made dozens of illustrations, and wrote manuscript after manuscript.  With each piece, I felt myself getting a little better. Finally, I got a lucky break when an illustrator friend introduced me to his agent.” With the help of his agent, Henry illustrated his first book, Pick a PupHe went on to illustrate Can’t Wait Till Christmasand Just Say Boo!. He has also written and illustrated two of his own picture books, I Speak Dinosaur! and Cheer Up, Mouse! He has three books due for release in 2013, including Good Night, Mouse!a sequel to Cheer Up, Mouse! To aspiring writers and illustrators he says, “Honing one’s craft takes time and hard work.  You may not get discovered your first year at the conference.  But youwill learn a ton, and if you’re serious about writing or illustrating, you’ll do what it takes to make the most of this conference.  It’s an amazing opportunity.”

Another illustrator and past WIFYR attendee, Matthew Armstrong, met his agent at the WIFYR conference as well. He has since written and illustrated several books for young readers, including a popular pop-up retelling of the classic Narnia tales. He also won the 2005 Benjamin Franklin Award for his illustrations in The Blacksmith’s Gift.

Illustrators Scott Franson and Sherry Meideell also attended the illustrator workshop at WIFYR conference. It was here that Franson sold his first picture book, the wordless tale Un-brella, published in April 2007. Meidell, meanwhile, made connections with her now-agent Steve Fraser, who will return to the conference this year as one of our special guests. Since then, Meidell has gone on to illustrate nine picture books.

Of course, illustrators aren’t the only ones who make connections at WIFYR conference. Rick Walton, a highly-published author of picture books, chapter books, joke books (and more!) says attending conferences like WIFYR is an essential part of becoming a published author. At conferences, writers and illustrators are able to network, not just with each other, but with agents and editors, too:  “Actually,most of my sales have come about through networking, from meeting people at conferences or other events,” he says. “It’s not the only way to get published obviously, but for me it’s the most effective.” The WIFYR conference led directly to at least three picture book sales for Walton.

Ann Dee Ellis, author of This is What I Did and Everything is Fine, feels that the instruction she got as an attendee was as valuable as the contacts she made. She writes, “I attended the conference while I was in graduate school. I had no idea what to expect. I was both surprised and excited after the first day. It was much more hands-on than I had expected. Not only did I get to have a group of peers plus a published and accomplished author read and critique my work, I got to meet editors and an agent from New York. I got to hear what they were looking for, learn what the business of writing entailed and received valuable tips on craft. I left the conference feeling rejuvenated and encouraged.
“The second year I attended, the author that was directing my workshop, Virginia Euwer Wolff, had a specific request from a new agent back in New York to look for writers that he might want to represent. After workshopping my piece, Virginia suggested I send him some of my manuscript. What?! Yay! I sent him the first few pages and, within a few weeks, had an awesome agent, and soon thereafter a contract. I can honestly say that the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference launched my career.” Ellis has since returned to WIFYR several times as an instructor.The conference has also put established authors in touch with editors and agents. Claudia Mills, author of dozens of YA and middle grade novels, first came to the conference as an instructor several years ago. While there, she met the person who would become her agent. She also met the editor to whom her agent would sell a new series. But she didn’tgain just professional contacts; “I met wonderful writers who helped me grow in my craft and whose friendship I will always cherish,” she says.

WIFYR conference has also been useful for beginning writers, and we hope to see several of our past attendees in print soon. Here is a list of past attendees who are now on the road to publication:Taryn Albright, winner of last year’s Annual Writing Contest, received a great deal of feedback from agent Mary Kole, creator of the popular website. After extensive revisions, Albright later signed with agent Molly Ker Hawn of the Bent Agency. She hopes to have a contract soon.

Courtney Alameda, a longtime WIFYR participant, signed last year with agent John Cusick. Her book, Shutter, will be published by Feiwell & Friends in 2014.

Kate Coursey, 19-year-old YA writer from Salt Lake City, was in a workshop with writer Alane Ferguson. Ferguson introduced Coursey to her agent, Edward Necarsulmer of McIntosh & Otis. Coursey signed with Necarsulmer soon after. Her book is undergoing revisions at Scholastic Press.

We’d love to see your name added to this list, and we know you would too. WIFYR may be just what you need to jump-start your writing/illustrating career. At the conference you will practice your craft, make new connections, and learn important skills to help you get published. Keep checking for more updates from our authors, and go see this year’s lineup at