Mightier than the Sword

Okay, you know me. I love books and respect the heck out of transformative works. So imagine my delight when I was asked to give an endorsement for a book about revolutionaries who changed the world through writing! Um, yes, please! And even better that the book was written by fellow SCBWI-Wisconsin member Rochelle Melander, who’s a friend and incredible cheerleader for fellow writers.

I just got my advanced copy of Mightier than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers & Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing. It releases July 27th and is sure to be a favorite of teachers and parents alike. I’m so happy for Rochelle and proud of this grand achievement. Mightier is compelling and a testament to the power of writing. I’m honored that it’s the first book for which I’ve given a blurb (an accolade quotation). This book is right up my alley.

Enjoy this glance at some inside pages, and remember, writing is revolutionary.

Image shows cover of book "Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers & Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing"

Image shows back cover of book "Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers & Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing"

Sample pages from book "Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers & Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing"

Sample pages from book "Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers & Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing"

Sample pages from book "Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers & Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing"

(Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers & Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing is available for pre-order at your local independent bookstore.)

A brainchild grows up!

In my last blog post, I mentioned how helpful it was during the pandemic to connect with people online. In mid-2020, when socially-distanced people were badly missing each other, I decided the SCBWI-Wisconsin region could benefit from connecting online just to hang out and chat, like we do at conference socials. It seemed to me that a lot of online meetups at the time revolved around some sort of educational programming, and I thought our members might want an unstructured way to hang out. We also had newly published members who were releasing books during a pandemic, not the ideal time to release, to be sure.

So I came up with the idea of “PAL New Release” meetups that, for a host of reasons, our PAL coordinators couldn’t implement until 2021, but, hey, they’ve been a HUGE success! And they’re something we’ll continue doing well after the pandemic has past.

The PAL New Release meetups allow our members to hear directly from PAL  (Published and Listed) authors about their new books — and they can talk about anything! Like: How did the book come to be? How did you get your original idea? How did the manuscript change over drafts? How did your editor’s editorial advice fit in with your vision? What’s the word count? How did the publisher choose the illustrator for the book? Are you getting a say in your marketing plan? Anything they want to chat about!

The authors aren’t required to answer anything they don’t want to, and they can ask questions too. Maybe an author they admire is in the audience, and they can compare notes, with the rest of the participants gleaning from the talk. Oh, and the whole talk is preceded by a half hour of simple catch-up time. People can dip in whenever they want. It’s all very easy-going, very fun, and a great way to connect with fellow members who may live too far to ever meet outside of a conference. What a great way to connect us all!

For all the fatigue Zoom has given us, there are great ways to connect, and I’m happy this little brainchild has caught on. I hope it lives on forever.

Photo shows a computer screen with 21 participants during the SCBWI-WI PAL New Release Meetup of February 24, 2021

SCBWI-WI PAL New Release meetup of February 24, 2021

Writers House Wrap-up

 

This week was my last as an intern at New York literary agency Writers House. I have so many wonderful things to say about this experience, but first, the logistics.

The internship is meant to teach a select few, lucky people the ins and outs of the publishing industry. But, more than that, it’s a program with the heart and purpose of increasing the number of BIPOC members within the industry. Publishing is overwhelmingly white, and that homogeny has historically been detrimental to creators from marginalized groups. As demographics shift, the need to diversify the industry has never been greater. Writers House and, specifically, program director Michael Mejias have been fighting the good fight for more than 20 years, working to ensure that those entering the industry better reflect the American people.

I’m told my class of 13 interns had more than two thousand applicants. I’m blown away that I was chosen to take part. What’s equally astounding is how amazing the program is structured and executed. You do not walk away from a Writers House internship without learning the skills needed to successfully enter the publishing industry.

I learned so much about assessing manuscripts, providing editorial feedback, and assisting agents. We interns also got to dive deeply into other aspects of publishing, including sales, marketing, publicity, foreign and subsidiary rights, scouting, contracts, production, and more. Michael has honed this program to be one of the most well organized programs I’ve ever seen. 

And while the internship is about education — and stellar it is — it’s also about community. Our supervisors work hard to help us succeed, both during and after our time there, seeing to it that we were challenged and grew. And then there were the other intern themselves. They are some of the brightest, most intellectually curious, and fun people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. They are actively on the job hunt and will take the industry by storm. I know someday their names will be spoken with awe and admiration. And rightly so.

In a year full of difficulties, my internship was an unexpected joy and a highlight of my life. I’m grateful to everyone involved. And I love getting to say I got my start in publishing at Writers House. 

Reading, finishing, starting another. Repeat.

One of my 2020 new year’s resolutions was to read daily – from an actual book, not just news headlines. Authors should of course read voraciously, but we all know how it goes. Life can interfere with even the best laid plans.

Then came the actual 2020, featuring a badly managed public health crisis, its subsequent economic collapse, long-simmering civil and social unrest, and the beginnings of a thinly veiled fascist coup. All has converged, grinding under heel our collective well-being.

So, yes, I’ve been reading, not just to keep my resolution but to stave off constant unease. Also, like many other creators, I’ve found it terribly difficult to get into the headspace to write cheerful fiction.

Thankfully, reading is part of the writing process. So what have I been enjoying lately?

 

Image shows book entitled "Roll with it" by Jamie Sumner

Roll with It by Jamie Sumner is about middle-schooler Ellie, who isn’t letting her wheelchair interfere with her big dreams to be a professional baker. But when she and her mom move to care for her ailing grandpa, Ellie has to start anew in a new town and school. Ellie is fun, straight-forward, and has you rooting for her from the very first page. I’m looking forward to reading Ms. Sumner’s newest book, Tune It Out, about a girl with a sensory processing disorder who has to find her own voice.

 

Image shows book entitled "The Assignment" by Liza Wiemer

The Assignment by Liza Wiemer is about standing up and speaking out. High school seniors Logan and Cade are horrified when a favorite teacher instructs students to argue in favor of the Final Solution, a euphemism for the Nazi plan of genocide of the Jewish people. This book is written by a dear friend and fellow SCBWI-Wisconsin member. Her works are deeply moving and heartfelt. Highly recommended.

It’s a great time to read. Those of us still respecting safer-at-home orders and employing social distancing are spending more time at home. Colder weather’s on the way. And we can all stand to occasionally see the world from someone else’s viewpoint.

Hope you’re enjoying some good reads, too. Share your recommendations in the comments!

 

 

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Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month starts Tuesday.

It’s always been a special time to acknowledge the history and contributions of the many people who make up the Hispanic/Latinx  community. With this year’s racial reckoning and social upheaval, I thought I’d share some data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Hispanics make up nearly 19% of the U.S. population. That’s almost 1 in 5. The demographics for children are already “majority minority,” meaning minorities make up the majority of people under the age of 18. To be tolerant of other groups now is to be tolerant toward America’s future leaders.

Especially in 2020, I feel it’s best to face facts.

Source: https://www.census.gov/newsroom/facts-for-features/2020/hispanic-heritage-month.html

A tribute to the UW-Madison’s Writers Institute

 

It is with a heavy heart that I share news of the end of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Writers’ Institute. The 30-year-long literary conference is shutting down due to financial loss from the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s hard to express how much of a loss this is for the Wisconsin writing community. The Writers’ Institute was part of the university’s Division of Continuing Studies and provided more than a conference. It offered courses, certifications, workshops, retreats, and a welcoming, thoughtful community to writers of all genres. People from all walks of life, writing in all forms, came together for decades to improve their craft and find like-minded folks.

I’ve twice had the honor of presenting as faculty at the Writers’ Institute, and I posted some pix from those times below. I’ll miss being there again. But I know the UWM-WI community will carry on. Let’s make sure it does.

Thank you, Laurie Scheer, Laura Kahl, and Christine DeSmit, for creating this event and profoundly affecting so many lives.

If you have a Writers’ Institute story, I’d love to hear it! Send it to me in a comment, and, once approved, it’ll show up here. Write on.

Reflections on our times

Six months. It’s taken me six months to get back to my blog, this News section. My last post was about being awarded two literary residencies and the weight of expectations, yet it was hopeful. *I* was hopeful. But even as I wrote that entry, the coronavirus pandemic was spreading around the world. Here in Wisconsin, we were two weeks past a truly hellacious news week, the week I marked in my personal calendar as “Coronavirus hell week” because I knew the virus was going to be a much bigger thing than many of my non-news friends were thinking. The journalist in me wanted to keep track of the timeline of events.

Because I organize and run conferences and retreats for both SCBWI-Wisconsin and Fantasy Art Workshop, I paid extremely close attention to governmental reports, even more so than a newshound typically does. I watched as a few in-person conferences organized by others were held when they shouldn’t have been, and I watched as others were canceled.

My co-advisor for SCBWI and I decided to cancel our September 2020 conference as the contractual drop-out date was approaching. We knew that holding the event wasn’t worth the risk to either our members’ health nor the region’s finances should we have to cancel after the deadline. We made the right choice.

The tougher decision for me personally was to cancel the Fantasy Art Workshop Illustration Intensive, an annual week-long art retreat at a local college which my husband and I run. The decision wasn’t harder because I lacked the same concerns of health and finances. No. Our attendees’ health will always come first. What was tough about the decision was that I saw how the whole pandemic would pan out.

Oh, it’s easy *in hindsight* to say that I predicted its path. Even experts weren’t willing to conjecture during the throes of the crisis. The year 2020 changed our lives so profoundly. But I’m not talking about the nuances of the spread. I’m talking about the human nature side of it.

See, you can’t be a journalist for nearly 30 years and not learn something about human nature. You can’t be interviewing people all the time and not recognize the vastly different worldviews of people within different demographics. You can’t talk to people all the time as part of your job and not have seen growing economic and political polarization. You can’t be busting your butt to be fair in your coverage without noticing that other news organizations are doing the exact opposite and being handsomely rewarded by a viewership/readership that is sick of hearing the other side’s view.

So I predicted way back in February that there would be some sort of shutdown of movement, that it would be fairly effective in lowering the curve, and then society would reopen. I told my husband that by the time of our event in late June, the economy would have opened up a bit, and we would be *allowed* by the authorities to hold our event, whether it was morally right or not, but he rightly read that the mood of people in the creative industries would be against holding in-person events.

I couldn’t help but agree because I knew, once the shutdowns eased, that many, many people would rush back into the world, and why wouldn’t they? Some have no financial choice. Others would feel that enough was enough, they’d done their part, and anyone asking more of them was asking to sacrifice the economy. I knew this instinctively from all my years of reporting.

There is a segment of our population that is so fiercely individualistic, privileged, and nationalistic that they would never bow to the collective, especially if doing so went against their “don’t tread on me” attitude. And I knew there was a segment of our population that would be quite the opposite and would plead that everyone follow science as a moral imperative to stop the pandemic’s slaughter. They would hardly be applauded for it. In fact, they’d be jeered for their softness and blamed for fear-mongering hysteria. Such has been the history of millennia. It’s the hawks versus the doves. The suits versus the hippies. Choose your opposites for this exercise. You’ll find many parallels.

My predictions were no great revelation on my part. It was simply years of study and observation. I predicted a second wave in late summer, which would hinder the return to school. And I further predict how damaging virtual learning will be to the women’s movement, as it will be mostly women who will forgo their careers this year to stay home to teach. They’re incentivized to do so as they already make less on the dollar than men (assuming they have such a life partner), and women have already lost standing and the forward trajectory of their careers by being out of the workforce for months or years at a time having and rearing said children. I know of what I speak. I homeschooled (by choice, which means I had the luxury of preparation) for a decade. For all the talk corporate America does about supporting women, reality reveals a stark contrast.

Of course, we know how the virus has turned out. But what we didn’t know would happen is the racial reckoning spurred by the murder of George Floyd and the further brutality against other people of color, including Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Joel Acevedo (no relation), and Dontre Hamilton.

If you think police aren’t given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to overreaching use of force, then you haven’t had to cover the police as a journalist. The account given by law enforcement is always given greater weight, most especially by the authorities charged with investigating those accusations. Oftentimes the media follows suit. In my decades of news, I’ve covered countless claims of abuse of force and seen far too few reports in which the authorities were caught and justice brought to bear — not because the force may not have existed, but because the brotherhood of protectionism often obstructs investigations. The authorities call their units a “force” for a reason and encourage citizen loyalty with supportive-looking slogans like “We back the badge.” But to back either side’s version as the default truth — or to swallow either side’s story without question or investigation — well, that’s not what ethical journalists do.

So with the pandemic raging, thousands marching worldwide against systemic racism, and an inept response to both, I did something wholly uncharacteristic of a writer. I stopped writing. So did many others. Working journalists kept on, as their paychecks and the world’s historical record depends on their great work. But my freelance journalism dried up. My will to write fiction did too. Few creatives — heck, few people overall — in those first months of the pandemic could hold it together.

We sewed masks, myself included, to give to nurses and other friends facing a deficit during an appalling lack of urgency by our national leadership to provide such items. Or we worked jigsaw puzzles to try to calm our racing hearts and slow the flashes of video-horror looping in our minds. Or we read books or watched TV to sink into any entertainment that could even temporarily numb our troubled souls. Or we leaned into that which brings us meaning. There was just so much anxiety. There continues to be.

But there is a new national conversation underway, one that is long overdue and vitally important. And that is another reason for hope. Caring people must always hope.

This summer, SCBWI hired an equity and inclusion officer to train its regional leaders (yours truly and many others) to be more inclusive among our ranks and have intent in our leadership. The demographics of children in the U.S. is now majority “minority.” In other words, most kids are nonwhite. Writers for U.S. children who purposely exclude people of color are not presenting the world as it exists today. As writers for children, we should strive to allow children who have been underrepresented in literature to see and read characters that are like themselves. And as writers for children, we have a special responsibility to not perpetuate stereotypes that do harm, especially when that literature is targeted to readers during their formative years. I’m grateful to be part of an organization that cares so much about its members and future generations.

This year has shaken the world. It is not hyperbole to say 2020 has brought us disease, death, financial calamity, worldwide street protests, racial violence, class wars, conflicts of conscience, and moral crises.

The coming autumn chill will drive us indoors. Its typical cold-weather illnesses threaten to join the virus. We will get through this crisis just as we have through other crises. But this whole essay begs the question: if we get through this crisis *just* as we have others, won’t the outcome be the same? Isn’t now the time to examine how we got here? Isn’t now the time to fix the systemic flaws that allowed both social injustice and the pandemic to flourish?

I beg you to look around you and see what you can do to alleviate injustice in your workplace, at your school, at your bank. And I beg you to care for yourself and others. We absolutely have it within our power to make the world a better place.

Most Listens Award!

How cool is this?! You may remember that I was interviewed last year by The Writescast Network podcast, which, by the way, is an excellent podcast for writers, illustrators, and creators of all types. Well, wow and zowie! I won the podcast’s MOST LISTENS AWARD for 2019! What a nice honor. I talked about writing a series following the completion of my God Awful trilogy. You can listen to the interview HERE.

Host Ryan Campbell also CREATED A NIFTY COFFEE MUG celebrating the award, which, if you’re interested in seeing the covers of my books while enjoying your morning coffee, you can purchase HERE.

And finally if you haven’t yet read my award-winning (I’m still so happy to say that!) series, why not get it now and binge read this funny story for a break from your studies or from real adulting? You can get the series HERE.

Thanks to author Ryan Campbell and to all of you out there who made the award happen. He’s had some really excellent guests, all authors, editors, agents, etc., within or around the publishing industry. If you’re into creating or publishing at all, you should dive into his podcasts. 🙂

Image shows award sticker for Silvia Acevedo for winning the 2019 Writescast Podcast Most Listens award

Silvia Acevedo holding a mug with the logo of The Writescast Network podcast and labeled 2019 Most Listens Award.Silvia Acevedo holding a mug showing the covers of her books, the God Awful series, with the words "Award Winner 2019 Most Listens" for The Writescast Network podcast.

Hanging out with the incomparable Linda Sue Park

When Newbery Award winner Linda Sue Park visits your area, you go. And that’s just what a bunch of us SCBWI-ers did recently when Boswell Book Company hosted her appearance promoting the release of her new middle grade novel, Prairie Lotus. Park says the work is reminiscent of the Little House books and is set in America’s heartland in the 1880s, but it’s meant to be much more inclusive and representative of the true diversity of the region then and now. Prairie Lotus features a half-Asian girl who’s also a wry, determined heroine.

SCBWI volunteers got some private chat time with Park before her event at the North Shore Library kicked off. You can see the event was well attended and just plain fun! Enjoy the pics.

SCBWI-Wisconsin is in the house!

SCBWI-Wisconsin is in the house!

Linda Sue Park speaking about her new book, Prairie Lotus

Linda Sue Park speaking about her new book, Prairie Lotus

Linda Sue Park speaking about her new book, Prairie LotusLinda Sue Park speaking about her new book, Prairie Lotus

Linda Sue Park holds her new release, Prairie Lotus, with an appreciative Silvia Acevedo

Linda Sue Park with her new release, Prairie Lotus, and Silvia Acevedo

Wrapping up 2019 – what an incredible year

Me and hubby Jeff Miracola

I have immense gratitude as I look back at 2019. I could write long tomes about the many blessings, joys, and stations I’ve experienced this year, but I often think simpler is better. And so on this holiday, I’ve reflected on my own and the journeys of my loved ones, as such reflection does us good.

I haven’t posted much this year. The reasons are many, and most are very good:

*I put out my latest book this year.
*My husband and I put on another wonderfully successful, week-long illustration workshop.
*Our eldest graduated from college, while our other children carry on with their own higher education.
*Travel, international and domestic, for which I still pinch myself in disbelief because it’s such a grand thing.
*Advancement within SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) such that I now run the state chapter with my co-leader – and all the planning and dedication that position involves.
*Being reminded daily just how important is our health, even as health problems hit those I love.
*New work, new priorities, new goals, a clearer vision.

I’ll have more on that last line in 2020. For now, just know that I appreciate all you who read my words, check in with news of your own, and try to do good in the world. My thanks.

SCBWI-WI co-regional advisors Rochelle Groskreutz and Silvia Acevedo