Member Monday: Critique Groups in New England and Beyond, Part 2

Happy Monday Morning! I am slowly adjusting to the dry, cold and snowy weather that is  Maine (read: not Puerto Rico). I’m so glad that you are here to read Part 2 of my interview with NESCBWI Critique Coordinator, Stacy Mozer. If you missed Part 1, take a look here.

Today we talk about critique group conflicts, intellectual property, and setting structure norms. How does your crit group deal with these issues? What do you get from your writing pals? Join the discussion and leave a comment.

Hey Stacy, welcome back. Sometimes crit groups are made up of long-time friends and sometimes they are constructed of writers and illustrators who have just met. Either way, there are bound to be issues. What if a group is having problems with a member? Are you (as crit group coordinator) available to help? What types of problems do crit groups have?

Critique groups certainly can have issues with members. The best way I’ve seen it handled is to go back and review the group’s norms (which should be set up at the first meeting). If that doesn’t change a member’s behavior, the critque group leader needs to have an honest conversation with the member, which I am happy to help with either by coaching the leader or making the call. If things continue not to work, it is time to part ways.

Some people are reluctant to join a crit group because they are afraid someone will steal their ideas. What are your thoughts about crit groups, the SCBWI community, and intellectual property?

You have ownership of what you write, even if you don’t have a copyright on the work. If a member is still worried, set up email submissions. That gives the file a date stamp you can use if it should ever come to it.

I know that a crit group can ask important questions that make a manuscript tighter, but what other benefits do you hear about?

The critque group is your tribe, a group of people who are there to help you survive. Make sure to leave time during group meetings to share more than your work. It will help keep you going through the very slow process that is writing and publishing a book.

Is there a structure for reviewing work in an SCBWI crit group that is standard? What does it look like?

Each group needs to set up their own norms. Some like to submit work before, some like to bring it. Some critique into the circle, everyone talking when they have an idea. Others like to go around, giving each person a chance at critique. There really is no “one right way” to do it. It’s a good idea to take a step back every so often and review the group’s norms to determine which are working and which need to change. I also find it helpful to type up the group’s norms so that they can be reviewed later. One of my leaders sends new members the group’s norms before their first meeting.

What are the differences between online crit groups and in person groups? Structure, relationships, etc.

I don’t know if there is a good answer for this question every in person and online group is different. I can tell you that SCBWI is creating a new website which will make finding online groups much easier. They are hoping to have that up and running by the summer.

I know that our Illustrator Coordinator, Casey Girard is working on a new illustrator sharing blog. How many of the crit groups are for illustrators?

At this point we have few open illustrator groups. We do have illustrators that belong to picture book groups if they are author/illustrators. I would like to see this area grow in the future.

Thank you so much, Stacy. I wish you luck on your current WIP!

Your welcome, Anna. For more information, members can look at past NESCBWI News. I write a column each month that focuses on some area of critique groups.

SCBWI Members from any region can access the NESCBWI News by logging in to going to the Regions tab>Regional Chapters> click on any New England State>Regional News and scroll down until you get to the PDF links.

Home Again Friday: Puerto Rico in Pictures and Poems

The last little piggie may have cried, “wee-wee” all the way home, but on our way home from Rincón, Puerto Rico my boys and I just cried. After an amazing week of surf, sand, sun, snorkel, and scuba, the last thing we wanted was to come back to the bare winter of Maine. There are no palm trees in Maine. More important, in Maine, we don’t have the attentive care of my parents who lavished us with food and fun.

Today, a slide show and two intimate-moment-Mama poems.

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Our Son
by Anna J. Boll

gentle eyes,
easy smile,
gorilla arms,
fuzz on upper lip

in him
i see you,
frozen in photos,
boy to man

he catches me
shakes his head,
a crazy mother,
full of pride

by Anna J. Boll

House lights twinkle
on dark island hills.
like maracas,
shakes palm fronds,
and chills the air

Long ago,
I wrapped two hands
around my big belly.
I wrap a blanket
around us both.

Coqui peep,
roosters crow,
dogs bark,
we wait.

We expect
and orange
to tint the clouds.

But the light
The sky
No show stopping

Just you,
and me,
and a moment

Member Monday: Critique Groups in New England and Beyond, Part 1

As the Northern New England Regional Advisor for SCBWI, I often get email queries that look a little like this one:

I am a new writer of children’s PB. I currently live in [My Town], NH, but am originally from [another state]. I recently completed my first PB manuscript. I am considering joining SCBWI, particularly because I need some assistance on publishing houses and/or agents to submit to. I would like to find local resources if possible. Can you tell me a little more about the regional chapter and the resources available?

As you can see, this very short email would require a very long response. I’ve answered a lot of these with:

Here’s my phone number, let’s talk. Please plan a 45 minute block of time for this phone call.

But more often, I send something that looks like this:

Welcome to the wonderful community of children’s books and SCBWI! The most important thing for that new manuscript is an audience of like-minded, knowledgeable writers. If you are an SCBWI member you can take advantage of our critique groups. Please take a look at the critique group site. The groups are broken down by state. You’ll also find the contact for our critique group coordinator Stacy Mozer. She can help you with any questions you have about finding a group closer to you or starting a new group.

Today, I’ve invited Stacy Mozer to Creative Chaos to discuss the up’s, down’s and etiquette of critique groups.

Welcome Stacy! Can you give us a quick “state-of-crit-groups” in New England?

The state of our critique groups are constantly in flux. New groups open and close all the time. Some groups take particular interests. I’ve been working on ways to connect our groups and find our leaders. When people registered for the conference this year they could register as a critique group leader. We are inviting all leaders to a pizza party on Saturday night to say thank you and connect them.

If someone can’t find a critique group, how do they start a new one?

My first suggestion when someone contacts me is for them to use the member finder on to see how many members live in their area. That can determine whether they want to start a local group or try something online. Either way, they should contact me at

Why is it so important for people to contact you?

I keep a list of members who are looking for critique groups and sometimes I can find new group members off that list. If there are members in the area, we next write a listing for Http:// I also ask the new leader to join our Critique Group Leader Yahoo Group at I have made document files available to the crit group leaders through the listserve. These documents help give the leader ideas. The group is also a place where leaders can connect to each other and ask questions.

What do you think is the optimum size for a crit group, and why?

The size of the group depends on the needs of the members and the organizational skills of the leader. If the group is critiquing novels, I recommend no more than six because you need the time to read before the meeting and to review each one. A picture book group can vary in size because members usually bring the work with them and members don’t always submit every week. I have one amazing picture group leader who invites dozens of people each time. Usually only six show up to one meeting, but when she gets more she separates the group into different rooms in her house

That sounds great. How often do you suggest that crit groups meet?

I recommend no less than once a month. I do have some groups that meet weekly.

What if a group is having problems with a member? Are you available to help? What types of problems do crit groups have?

Critique groups certainly can have issues with members. The best way I’ve seen it handled is to go back and review the group’s norms (which should be set up at the first meeting). If that doesn’t change a member’s behavior, the critque group leader needs to have an honest conversation with the member, which I am happy to help with either by coaching the leader or making the call. If things continue not to work, it is time to part ways.

Please come back next Monday for Part 2 of my critique group interview with Stacy Mozer. We’ll discuss intellectual property concerns, structuring your critique group, illustration and online groups and more!

Poetry Friday

This week Paul B. Janeczko visited Brunswick, Maine. Specifically, he visited my son’s classroom. Now you’d think that a mom who was so involved with poetry, and the children’s book industry, and her child, would know that Paul B. Janeczko– poet, anthology editor, and author was visiting her child’s classroom this week.

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I did not. I knew he was coming but did not know when. Perhaps this is a notice-rumpled-at-the-bottom-of-the-backpack situation. Or it could be a notice-buried-under-the-piles-of-papers-on-my-kitchen-counter situation. Either way I missed it. Luckily, my son was there and here is his brilliant acrostic poem from the visit and workshop.

Enjoys swimming
Tennis too
Has an intrest in math
Also in architecture
Not a nerd

Book Review Wednesday: Friends With Boys

Friends With Boys, by Faith Erin Hicks opens with our heroine Maggie preparing for her first day of high school. This is her first time in the public schools as she has been home schooled  by her mother. Her mother recently left the family leaving behind Maggie, Maggie’s police chief father, a set of high school-aged twins, and an older brother also in high-school.

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The insular nature of Maggie’s homeschooling experience left her scared about facing the wider world. Her mother’s disappearance only intensified Maggie’s instinct to keep to herself. However, she finds new friends (Lucy and her older brother Alistair) with whom she explores the stigmas of homeschooling, sibling relationships, and self-confidence in the a high school setting.

Faith Erin Hicks does a great job pacing the graphic elements of the book. She uses framing, and multiple angles to move the reader forward quickly then pauses the action with two page spreads. Often these spreads build tension or give the reader sweeping views of scenery. Hicks has an eye for architecture, and renders these wide shot scenes with confidence.

First Second published the graphic novel us Anya’s Ghost in 2011 so I gave a little eye roll when a ghost showed up in the frames to haunt our FWB main character, Maggie.  Maggie’s ghost is a 19th century widow of a ship captain. Both the captain and their two sons were lost at sea.

In both books the ghost is symbolic of a larger haunting. Anya strives for popularity, denying her immigrant past. She pushes aside her values and cares more about how she is perceived. When she finally embraces her true self she also looses her ghost. In FWB, Maggie and the ghost pine for their losses. Maggie for her run-away mother and the ghost for her husband and sons. Maggie looses her ghost when she and her brothers recommit to their family and Maggie embraces a life without her mother.

If you know a  7th-9th grade graphic novel enthusiast who liked Anya’s Ghost, and SkimFriends With Boys– set in high school, and peppered with paranormal– is right for for them. Friends With Boys has a February 28th release date with First Second Publishers.

Member Monday: The importance of literacy

It may only be February 13th, but March and two wonderful literacy events, are right around the corner.

March 2nd is Dr. Seuss’s Birthday and the annual National Education Association’s celebration of Read Across America Day.

March 7th is World Read Aloud Day sponsored by LitWorld. SCBWI is an official partner of World Read Aloud Day and Headquarters is encouraging members to get involved. (See the other partners here. ) Both pre-published and published authors can play an important role in advancing literacy. It’s  a great opportunity for members to connect with your local independent bookstore and help promote the SCBWI’s role in literacy.

From the LitWorld website:
Literacy is the foundation for emotional and physical well-being, intellectual growth, and economic security. The right to read and write is a fundamental human right and belongs to all people.

Worldwide at least 793 million people remain illiterate. Two-thirds of them are women. All over the world, children are hungry for learning and for the power it brings. Research shows that children learn to read and write best by writing and telling the stories of their own experiences. Yet it is rare to find safe spaces where children feel fully comfortable to do so.”

It doesn’t matter if your event takes place on the 2nd or the 7th. What’s important is that we take a moment to think of how we can bring literacy to our communities.

What can you do?

  • Organize a read-a-thon with other authors/illustrators in your area. Perhaps a local independent bookstore would open for 24 hours to let people read all night long. Take donations and send them to a literacy organization.
  • Ask your local librarian if you can schedule free readings during library hours during the first week of March. Contact your SCBWI Regional Advisor to help you contact other authors/illustrators in your area.
  • Are you a well-known author with a well-read blog? Auction off a school visit for the first week of March with the procedes going to to a literacy organization.
  • Connect with LitWorld at to watch video chats and read alouds with special guest. Or do a read aloud video chat with someone far away.
  • Change your avatar on your social networking sites to support Read Across America and World Read Aloud Day.
  • If you live near NYC, attend a Books of Wonder/LitWord event.
  • Dress up as your favorite character.
  • Link to this blog, LitWorld, or NEA

There are more ideas, statistics, and classroom reproducables from LitWorld here.

Whatever you choose to do, don’t keep it to yourself. Both NEA and LitWorld have a place on their websites where you can register your activity. SCBWI members can send their photos and information directly to chelseamosser at scbwi dot org.

Five on Friday

1. This has been a good week. First of all, my revision is moving along. (Thank you Cheryl Klein!) While I might not be on schedule to complete the next draft by my self-imposed deadline of February 15th (next Wednesday), I’m confident that it will get done. This mood is quite different from the pity party I had for myself a few weeks ago. “Woe is me…” (I said to myself,) “all my writing and for nothing! I may be able to bang out a draft, but a real writer knows that 90% of writing is revision. I’m never going to finish. I’ve let down my family. All my VCFA friends are going to get published and I’m not. I should just give back that stupid MFA.” I know. It’s pretty annoying stuff. Please don’t tell me that I’m the only one that has these pity parties. Please. In fact, write me a comment telling me the silliest negative thing you ever told yourself.

2.  I’m busy reading for upcoming Book Review Wednesdays. On deck are Cynthia Levinson’s new nonfiction We Got a Job, and the graphic novel Friends With Boys. I’d love to know… How far in advance do you want to know about a new book? On its launch date? A month before? Leave me a comment and any titles you’d like to know more about. If its on NetGalley, I can try to get it.

3. This is also a good week because Frosty’s Donuts is having a grand re-opening! Frosty’s Donuts are like a piece of heaven, glazed and with a hole. These donuts are so light, so melt-in-your mouth amazing, they are a symphony of sugar and lard. I do not frequent Frosty’s. If I went their frequently, I’d be as round as a donut. Frosty’s closed when June Frost passed away and this week, a new sign appeared. Grand Re-opening in three days. (That was Wednesday.) Now the big day is tomorrow. The place is getting all spiffed up with new paint (no more Jesus pamphlets), but they’ve retained the original baker. You can bet, I’ll be in line tomorrow to support them. Frosty’s donuts. A little less Holy but still amazing.

Frosty’s Donuts from Don Bernier on Vimeo.

4. I’m getting new neighbors!!! Nuff said.

5. We are going to Puerto Rico next week to visit with my parents. Sun. Warmth. Fewer items of clothing. Love. Childcare. Nuff said.

Have a good weekend!

Book Review Wednesday: How to Make a Golem and Terrify People

This week I’ll be discussing the middle grade novel, How to Make a Golem and Terrify People, by Alette J. Willis. This is not a negative review but does offer quite a bit of constructive criticism so if you’d rather skip it, fine. (See this post by Maggie Stiefvater about bloggers who give negative reviews.) I hope you’ll join me next week.

The book doesn’t seem to be available at IndieBound or at B&N and probably because it is published in Scotland by Floris Books.

From the Floris Books webpage:

Floris Books is a publishing company based in Edinburgh, Scotland. We publish books in two main areas: non-fiction for adults, and books for children… We’re also the largest children’s book publisher in Scotland. We publish board and picture books for 0-7 year olds, often international stories in translation and nostalgic classics; story books and anthologies for 6-10 year olds; and the Kelpies series of Scottish children’s fiction, a much-loved classic series into which we’re publishing brand new contemporary novels. We also publish a wide range of craft and activity books suitable for children of all ages.

As a Jewish mom with an interest in Jewish legend and folktale, the title of the book intrigued me. If you’ve seen the Caldecott winning book, Golem, by David Wisniewski…

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…you may already be familiar with the tale. In the 1500’s a Rabbi in Prague creates a giant man out of mud to protect the Jews. In many of the stories, the Golem is uncontrollable. In the picture book, the Rabbi who gave him life sends him back to the clay he came from. Anyway, it’s an interesting story and I was curious to see what a Scottish author would do with it.

This book is about a girl named Edda, who is as tiny and fearful as a mouse, which is what her mother calls her. When her home gets broken into, she is more fearful than ever. Her mother starts looking for new homes but Edda doesn’t want to move. Her family has moved around quite a bit and she is finally in a school where she’s found a friend. Of course she’s also found a bully. Enter Michael Scot– a somewhat magical, perhaps time-traveling boy version of a historical and alchemist Michael Scot– who helps Edda create a Golem to solve her problems. Needless to say, the Golem only causes more problems and it is up to Edda to save herself.

This is a very sweet story. However, I had a lot of problems with it. Perhaps it is cultural, but the author tells quite a bit of the story or shows and then tells. There seemed to be a lot of cold imagery that didn’t match the story. Cold that slips down Edda’s spine, fear that “filled my stomach with quaking ice cubes…” The author also names emotions instead of showing. Throughout the book Edda feels: “queasey, sick to her stomach, sorry for him, safe and secure, angry and helpless at the same time, an unexpected flood of gratitude…” The magic of Michael Scot is never wrapped up. The character disappears when things get rough and the reader never finds out if indeed he is a time traveling Michael Scot or not. Further, Edda never gets to settle her feelings with the amorphous boy. I think that my biggest disappointment was in the fact that Jewish tradition didn’t seem to matter to any of the characters in the book.

I could go on but I won’t. My purpose in pointing out these writing issues is not to be unkind to the author but to further my own craft. When we read critically, we write critically and we give our children something that we are proud to read as well.


What’s new in New England SCBWI?

Unless you’ve had your head deep in your WIP you know that last night’s Super Bowl was  rematch of the Patriots vs. Giants Super Bowl from four years ago. Both times the New England Patriots lost in a dramatic, clock-ticking ending. I watched the game with my kiddos, my husband (on Skype chat in Africa), and my writer friends (in a separate window on twitter). Hubby went to shower at halftime, (It was about 3 am his time after all) and the writers heated up. Talk of the ads, the show (costumes, choreography), how Madonna looked at 53, her energy level, and the guest appearances kept me refreshing my screen every few seconds. The funniest part of the tweet show was when my writer friends disappeared to watch the PBS Masterpiece Theater period drama Downtown Abbey. Well, if you were a stalwart Patriot fan and stuck it through to the bloody end, I give you some New England SCBWI news and events to boost your spirits and keep you going through spring.

Live Animal Study: A Children’s Book Illustrator’s Workshop:

Sunday, February 26, 2012, 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.
The Edna Lawrence Nature Lab
13 Waterman Street, Providence, RI

Bring your sketchbooks, pencils, and light painting supplies and enjoy a rare opportunity to study a handful of live exotic (and some not-so-exotic) animals up close and personal!

RISPCA Humane Educator Laurelin Sitterly will present on each creature’s basic anatomy, movement, and habits that will be sure to inspire you and provide a wealth of knowledge for your animal-themed book projects. Taxidermy and skeletal models will also be available to examine, courtesy of RISD’s Edna Lawrence Nature Lab.

This is an event to gather inspiration from the animal world, practice your craft amidst an active environment, meet your fellow SCBWI illustrators, and benefit from a critique of your day’s efforts by your peers.

Registration Form

Must be completed and mailed to Christina Rodriguez, Workshop Coordinator by February 17, 2012
***Note: This program is for SCBWI members only. Not an SCBWI member? Join now!

Applications are now being accepted for the Ruth Landers Glass Writers Scholarship and the Ann Barrow Illustrators Scholarship:

Deadline for application: March 10, 2012.

Scholarship winners will receive one day’s free tuition for the 2013 New England SCBWI Spring Conference or any other NE SCBWI one-day event including Encore, Salon or other one-day workshop that we hold. The scholarship is for tuition only and does not cover any other expenses such as editor critiques, hotel or travel. Click for more information include rules and registration.

***Applicants MUST be registered for the 2012 New England SCBWI Spring Conference.
***Note: These scholarships are for SCBWI members only. Not an SCBWI member? Join now!

Working with a Book Marketing Consultant:

Saturday, March 10, 2012, 10:00 – 3:15
Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
125 West Bay Road, Amherst, MA

Are you feeling unsure of your path after publication?
Do you wonder how best to handle the promotion of your book?

Many children’s book creators are supplementing their publisher’s book promotion efforts with the advice and tactics of marketing consultants.  Is this the right step for you?

Listen to authors and illustrators discuss their relationship and work with their marketing partners, Deborah Sloan and Kirsten Cappy. Then ask question of your own.

$15.00 for SCBWI members, $20.00 for non-SCBWI members
Registration fee includes admission to the museum.
No food or beverages provided. Please bring your own lunch and eat at the museum with other attendees.

And of course… The NESCBWI Annual Spring Conference:
Keeping it Real
April 20-22 in Springfield, MA

When last I checked there were still spots available for the conference but they are filling quickly so register today!

All of this information is also listed on the Chapter Home Page on the website. Go to Regions>Regional Chapter and pick your state. In order to receive news and event information, and membership renewal emails, remember to keep your member profile up to date. Spring will be here before you know it!

Five on Friday and a Poem

1. The SCBWI Conference was a great break from the studio. I’m back, and working with the ideas from the Revision Workshop with Cheryl Klein. I’d like to report that I’m moving forward at great speeds but that would be a lie. I spent the week writing a letter to myself, processing the good, the bad, and the ugly about the manuscript. I also wrote the flap copy and tried the “summarize your novel in one sentence exercise.” Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I urge my own students to spend time on prewriting to make the writing easier– this is all necessary pre-revision work that will save me time later on.

2. I’d be less hard on myself if I wasn’t aware of all the time I “wasted” this week. As you can see, I’ve moved my blog to in part because of the page building aspect of the site. My website was terribly outdated and I appreciate the ease with which I can change things in WordPress. However, like everything, there is a learning curve (with all of its fumbling, backtracking, exploring, searching) takes time away from writing. Also, most of it goes on when my children are asleep which means I am up too late and tired through the day. This too, slows production and puts me on shaky emotional ground. Yesterday, just before I had to pick up a kiddo  I thought I had lost all my work. I rolled up to the school 15 minutes late, exhausted, and weepy. “What am I doing?” I asked my very wise yet young son. “This stupid website is supposed to advertise my writing. If I’m not a writer, what’s the point?!” He patted my shoulder, “Shhh. You are a great writer. You just need a nap.”

3. My efforts with two other members of the Brunswick community to make April 26th Poem in Your Pocket Day is moving along nicely. We have a variety of events that are being planned including a community poetry open mic night, and a presentation by Wesley McNair our Maine Poet Laureate. We are applying for grants to cover the cost of flyers, school visits/programs, and stickers. On April 26th people are encouraged to wear the sticker and carry a Poem in their Pocket to read to others. Please visit our newly minted Facebook page and “like” us.

4. The deployment is officially one month down. I’m humbly accepting Sunday dinner invitations for my family.

5. The triathlon season is just around the corner. First tri, April 15th. Writing down publicly makes it much more real and imminent. Happily, I signed up for a spinning class that fits my schedule perfectly. The teacher said she’d also be teaching a tri prep class on Mondays and Fridays. While I could train on my own, I know that I’ll be much more consistant if I join the class.

A Prayer
by Anna Boll

Oh, Dear Tech Gods,
let technology help me today.
Allow me to be more productive,
not less.
Watch over my computer
do not let it crash.
Keep my documents safe.
May my website, web
my downloads, load
my plugins, plug
my widgets, widge.
As I tweet
and blog
and update
and friend,
grow my platform.
Protect me from hackers
so I may keep my identity
to procrastinate another day.