Monday, December 7, 2009


On Saturday I received confirmation, so today I am ready to announce it to the world. I have recently signed on with Shenanigan Books to publish my picture book, DON'T LET THE BEDBUGS BITE! This hard-cover picture book will be part of Shenanigan's 2011 list! In honor of this occasion, I thought I'd like to share with you the process up to this point:

I guess the best place to start is right at the beginning. In December of 2008, it was my turn to submit a bit of work to my critique group (The Mudskippers) for critique. At that time, because of the busy holiday season, I really didn't have anything to share with them. I decided to send them a little poem I had written a few months earlier since it was something they hadn't seen before. The poem had been sitting because I just wasn't sure what to do with it. I had never submitted poetry before and other than Highlights, I wasn't sure who else would be interested. Needless to say, I was very surprised with the response I got from The Mudskippers. They all enjoyed my poem and suggested I develop it into a picture book. Not totally convinced, I continued to work on the poem and struggled to come up with a twist for the end. Eventually it all came together and I began submitting. I received some interest from a few publishers, but alas, no offer of publication.

During the spring, I was given the book STAR OF THE SHOW by Della Ross Ferrari for review. (I review books for & Before I even read the book, I was immediately impressed with the quality; the vivid colors and gorgeous artwork practically leaped off the front cover! Of course I had to know who published such a beautiful book. This led me to Shenanigan's website. ( I soon found that this New Jersey-based company publishes books that "capture imagination and make bedtime-reading a treasured family tradition." The books on their web site looked fun and zany and I knew I had to submit "Bedbugs" to them.

So, on May 6, 2009, I snail mailed my submission as per Shenanigan's guidelines. In the meantime, I continued to market my little rhyming picture book elsewhere. On August 24th I received an email from Shenanigan Books asking for a word.doc of the manuscript because it was up for consideration. Of course, after a little whooping and dancing, I complied. On October 7th, I received another email with an offer of publication. At that time I responded with a resounding "NO!" (Just kidding!) Of course I didn't say no! I said, "YES, YES, YES!"

Soon after, I received the contract, signed it and sent it off. This past Saturday I received my copy, including the publisher's signature, and after a lot of whooping and dancing, I realized my second picture book is finally in the works. (And it rhymes!) Given Shenanigan's reputation, I know it will be WONDERFUL! AWESOME! STUPENDOUS!

So I wanted to share with you some of Shenanigan's other great titles because I know you'll love them too. Check them out. Better yet, buy them and share them with your children. (Or somebody's children.)

Francine and Max decide to play circus and as usual Francine wants to take center stage. But Max has his own ideas. Francine’s comical production woes will be appreciated by every kid who’s had to share the limelight with an older sibling.
You can read my review of this title by clicking on the link in the sidebar under "Read my reviews for children's books".

A world of unusual beasts spring to life under the covers and between the lines of this A to Z rhyming book. From Apple-Clops to Zeedunks, this wildly fanciful collection of alphabet beasts will delight and amuse young readers.

Step through the hidden veil that separates our world from the magical world of fairies with this illustrated handbook for finding, understanding and pleasing fairies. Fairy followers young and old will cherish and delight in its Fairy Secrets!

When Miss Violet from the garden club presented the residents of Pudding Street with a special award for Prettiest Flowers no one knew who was responsible, except for a very clever dog and a very busy bird!

-Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

Friday, November 13, 2009

Stephanie Meyer on Oprah!

Stephanie Meyer, author of the phenomenal TWILIGHT SERIES, was a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show today, just one week from the opening of the new movie NEW MOON, which is based on the second novel in the series. Although I’m sure she was there to publicize the upcoming movie, I focused on the interview as a writer and thought I’d like to share with you my take on it.

Meyer, like myself, is a stay-at-home Mom. She had no ideas or hopes of ever becoming a writer and had not dabbled in the craft. (Although her author’s bio states she graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English Literature.) She was always a voracious reader. In fact, you could say she was more than your average high-level reader as at the age of eight she was reading books like GONE WITH THE WIND and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Although the horror genre was one she always shied away from claiming to be to “chicken” to read it.

One night, she had a very vivid dream. In it, there were two people in a clearing in a rain forest and the boy, who was very beautiful, was sparkling in the sunlight while the girl was not. It became clear in the dream, the girl was human, but the boy was a very perfect specimen of a vampire. When she woke, she felt compelled to write the dream down so she wouldn’t forget it. She began concocting the story because she wanted to know what happened to this couple. Her now very famous novel grew from what TWILIGHT fans have come to recognize as chapter 13. When she finished, she went back and filled in the beginning. Throughout the writing process she kept notebooks by her bed because she would often wake in the middle of the night with fresh ideas and needed to write them down. While she wrote the story, her husband really had no idea what she was up to. She was embarrassed to confide in him she was writing about vampires fearing she was crazy and not wanting him to confirm it.

Meyer’s sister, Emily, read the story and encouraged Meyer to submit it for publication. For fun, she looked into the process and queried numerous agents. She received nine rejections, five no responses and one request to read more. That request came from Jodi Reamer of Writer’s House who eventually sold the manuscript to Little Brown & Company. I imagine Ms. Reamer is decidedly thrilled she took a chance on a novice novelist. Which just goes to show how subjective this business really is. Maybe, given the opportunity, other talented writers might realize their dreams too –literally!

-Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

Thursday, October 29, 2009

SCBWI-CAROLINAS CONFERENCE 2009; When is YA not YA? A workshop by David Mcinnis Gill

David Macinnis Gill is the author of SOUL ENCHILADA, a highly anticipated novel released this spring by Greenwillow. SOUL ENCHILADA has been nominated for the BBYA (Best Books for Young Adults) honor. He is the past President of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents and teaches at UNC Wilmington.

According to Mr. Gill, YA (Young Adult) is not a genre, but a marketing category instead, as is the term MG (Middle Grade). They both fall under the umbrella known as “children’s literature.”

A YA is a book with a teen main character and involves a teen “problem.” It is written primarily for a teen audience and is told in the here and now. NOT as an adult looking back on his/her past as a teen.

Mr. Gill quoted Cheryl Klein, Senior Editor at Arthur A. Levine Books (An imprint of Scholastic) on her definition: “ YA is centrally interested in the experience and growth of its teen protagonist, whose dramatized choices, actions and concerns drive the story and is narrated with relative immediacy to teen perspective. “

YA vs. MG:
YA spans ages 12-18
MG spans ages 9-14

-More MG books will make it into libraries than YA.
-MG & YA share some characteristics, such as a teen protagonist, because of the overlapping age range. What differentiates the two is the intensity of the story. For example, in a MG, a teacher can only be so mean. But in a YA, a teacher can become predatory.

More often than not, it is not the author who decides which category a book fits in. As the author, it is up to you to write your best story. It is up to the editor, the sales team, marketing or your agent to decide what section of the bookstore or library your book will sit.

When you gear your writing toward the YA market, your main character should be roughly two years older than the target audience and push the boundaries in subject matter. YA is also reaching toward college-age readers allowing for longer text and more complex and darker themes. However, on the flipside, the MG market is also getting larger as publishers push toward the fourteen age range with an average of 200 pages per book.

If you want to get a good idea what is popular in YA fiction these days, go to the bookstore. Check out the SINGLE titles, not series. Look at the hard cover copies as they are the most recently published works. On the web, look at the web sites for ALAN or YALSA. On the YALSA site you can find the BBYA (Best Books for Young Adults) Award or Top Ten Teen Reads. Another great way to find hot YA’s is to look up the Prince Award and its prior honorees.

So basically, what I have gathered from Mr. Gill’s workshop is when marketing your YA work to editors/agents during the search for publication, do your homework. Read lots of YA and find out what’s out there. Check out the competition and make sure yours is as good or better. Read the acknowledgements page of similar works and find out the name of the editor or agent who helped develop it into a finished product. Target your work appropriately.

The biggest issue for me, in recognizing YA is HOW it is written. The story MUST be told from a teen’s point of view in the here and now. A true YA will not be written from a teen’s point of view after he/she is an adult and looking back at the past. This is the key and seems to be the major factor in what differentiates YA from regular adult fiction.

Are you still confused? Does your book run the gamut between YA & MG and you’re just not sure how to market it to that editor/agent? Don’t lose any sleep over it. If you have a good story, killer voice, and great character, your book will be published. Leave the marketing aspect of it to “the powers that be.” They’re the experts and they’ll know just what niche your book fits into. Happy writing!

-Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

This article was taken from my own workshop notes. Any error or inconsistencies are solely mine and not that of David Mcinnis Gill.

Monday, October 5, 2009

SCBWI-Carolinas Conference 2009 The Picture Book is NOT Dead by Fatimah Kahn

Fatimah (pronounced Fateema) Khan is Associate Editor at Little Brown Books for Young Readers. She is new to the conference circuit and this was her first time addressing a crowd. She confessed immediately to being very nervous but honestly, it didn’t show. She was cute, lively, funny and most importantly, interesting!

She began by telling us that this year has been a great PB year for Little Brown! In this tough economy, that is great news. Especially for those of us who focus mostly on that genre. On the head table she had displayed some of those banner books for us to see and then took the time to give us her take on why she thought they were so successful.

1. THE CURIOUS GARDEN by Peter Brown (Author/Illustrator)
a. Has a timely, environmental theme.
b. Likeable boy character. No parents involved.
c. Fantastic artwork.
d. Spare text. Easy & clear for kids to understand.
e. Great progression with a beginning, middle and end.
f. Clear message. 1. Anyone can make a difference. 2. “Green” message.
g. Eco-friendly packaging.

2. THE I LOVE YOU BOOK by Todd Parr (Author/Illustrator)
a. Love sells.
b. Has holiday appeal. (Valentines Day)
c. Inexpensive price.
d. Designed to look like a greeting card and makes a great gift.

3. BIRDIE’S BIG GIRL SHOES by Suejean Rim (Author/Illustrator)
a. New take on growing too fast.
b. Wonderful artwork.

4. MARTHA DOESN’T SAY SORRY by Samantha Berger(Author) &
Bruce Whatley (Illustrator)
a. Story is character driven.
b. Has lasting value & appeal.
c. A new story with a classic feel.

5. DINOTRUX by Chris Gall (Author/Illustrator)
a. Marketed to boys. Strong boy appeal.
b. Dinosaurs + Trucks = Hit!!
c. Fantastic design & illustrations. d. Great read aloud.

6. OFF TO KINDERGARTEN by Tony Johnston (Author/Illustrator)
a. Low price.
b. Great back-to-school promotion.

Afterward, Ms. Khan shared with us her list of attributes that she feels make for a good children’s book.

1. Child is the hero.
2. Author uses rich, lively text and dialog.
3. Author is NOT condescending.
4. Characters seem real, complex and show growth.
5. There is a twist.
6. No heavy-handedness.
7. Details are included with a child’s sensibility.
8. There is a story arch.
9. Author has created an interesting, believable world.
10. The story is moving. –It makes you laugh, cry, ect.
11. It carries a fresh revelation through repeat readings.
12. The story is enjoyable for both the child and the adult who
reads it out loud.
13. It has a clear approach.
14. Details are carefully thought out. (This pertains to the design
of the book.)
15. Doesn’t follow a trend but has lasting value all its own.

Ms. Khan is always looking for innovative novelty projects with a playful twist, picture books with strong commercial appeal as well as novelty formats, eye-catching holiday, seasonal tie-ins and fresh fun-to-read-aloud stories. She works on books for the youngest readers ranging from board books to interactive lift-the-flap and touch-and-feel projects. Little Brown does not accept unsolicited queries or manuscripts. Most submissions are through a literary agent.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

SCBWI-Carolinas Conference 2009 WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PB's by Namrata Tripathi

My first workshop of the day carried the above title. Because I consider myself predominantly a picture book writer, it was great to see so many sessions dedicated to this genre. Let me start off by saying Ms. Tripathi, an Executive Editor at Atheneum books for Young Readers which is an imprint of Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing Division, was cute and smart and came off as a very wise editor/businesswoman. As a stay-at-home-mom, who often feels unorganized and unworldly, my hat goes off to her and other career minded young ladies like her.

She began her lecture by giving us an editor’s-eye-view of the process of making a picture book.

1. Receives manuscript. LOVES it!
2. Takes manuscript to the editorial team and publisher.
3. If all is a go, she then discusses the manuscript in an acquisitions meeting. Here she will compare your book to similar titles and their sales. She has to come up with projected earnings. At this point she is a champion for your work and puts a lot of labor into putting it through to contract.
4. Once acquired, she will start to look for an illustrator. Usually, by this time she has a vision in her head and may already have someone in mind. However, a lot of time is spent conferring with the art director.
5. Sketches arrive and layout is planned. Again, this is done together with the expertise of the art director.
6. Neither author, nor editor have a lot of say on the final cover art. This is strictly a sales and marketing decision and they get final say.

A lot of time was dedicated to a question and answer period and because of this, my notes are rather short and sporadic. Although I learned a lot by the Q&A, (Including the answers to a few of my queries) I was too preoccupied by the exchanges to write them down. But I’ll share with you the little bit I recall.

Ms. Tripathi was asked about word length. Although she stated she does not look for a specific count, she did point out that most of today’s best sellers incorporate a short one. This is probably due to the fact that PB’s are read by adults, not children, and make for a quicker read at the end of a busy day. Keeping this in mind, remember that picture books absolutely MUST appeal to children, but should also appeal to the adults reading them. After all, what parent wants to read and reread a book they dislike ten or twenty times over?

For you rhymers, please know that picture books in verse are not dead. The problem is that too often manuscripts of this sort incorporate bad rhyme. It is a very difficult thing to do and do well. Like most editors, Ms. Tripathi shudders at the thought of receiving these kinds of submissions. However, if you have GREAT rhyme, (And make sure it is really, really great.) then she will be happy to see it. Otherwise, she likes manuscripts that are funny, quirky and truthful. But keep in mind, if you are not a conference attendee, Simon & Schuster does not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

SCBWI-Carolinas Conference 2009 FEEDING THE MASSES by Bonnie Bader

Bonnie Bader, Editor-in-Chief of Grosset and Dunlap, and Price Stern Sloan, two imprints of Penguin Young Readers Group, shares her expertise and give us the low-down on these books that extend beyond traditional trade outlets.

She began by sharing with us the definition of “mass.” Of course, there are many definitions of the word, but the one that worked best for this discussing is that mass simply means; a huge amount.

Mass Market books sell to the traditional bookstores like Barnes & Noble, Borders, ect. . .
They also sell to mass markets such as WalMart, Target, BJ’s, ect. . .
And let’s not forget our favorite independent bookstores like Quail Ridge Books who runs our conference bookstore year after year.

According to Bader, the economy hasn’t really hurt children’s publishing. In fact, children’s books are doing well.

Bonnie then spoke about the kinds of mass market books her company publishes.

1. Licensed Publishing.
This includes tie-ins to movies, tv, dolls, games, ect. (Strawberry Shortcake, Max & Ruby) *Writing for licensed properties is a good way to get your foot in the door.

2. Novelty
This includes pop-ups, lift-the-flap, touch & feel, ect.
(This line is looking for holiday books.)

3. Levelled Readers
Books like All Aboard Reading or Step into Reading.
(Presently her company is working on a new program and is in need of writers for new readers.)

4. Series
Short, fast-past adventures with lots of dialog
(Always looking for good series. Send proposal w/ log line (A quick explanation of what makes your series stand out.) and ideas for the first three books along with the first three chapters of book one.)

5. Inexpensive picture books
(Such as Periwinkle Smith and the Twirly, Whirly Tutu)

Ms. Bader oversees a group of eight editors who actively acquire a wide range of books. She is always looking to hire writers to work on a “for hire” or “royalty” basis. Grosset & Dunlap does not accept unsolicited manuscripts but does review queries. Please check their website for further guidelines.

Keep a watch for the next installment of SCBWI-Carolinas Conference 2009 featuring Namrata Tripathi, Executive Editor of Atheneum BFYR. COMING SOON!

Monday, September 21, 2009


In July, during my annual pilgrimage to my beloved Massachusetts, I had the opportunity to visit The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst. I had heard many good things about it and being a picture book writer myself, I was in a hurry to see what it was all about. Add to the fact that THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR was an early favorite of both my children and wild horses couldn’t keep me away. From my little hometown of Ware, the trip to the museum was a short 20 minute drive through the country with a quick stop at Atkins Farm for bakery delights afterward.

The Eric Carle Museum is built on property once owned by Hampshire College. Although it looks like the museum may be part of the campus, it is not. Founded by Eric Carle and his wife Barbara, the museum’s location was chosen due to the proximity of the area where the couple made their home for nearly thirty years. It is the first full-scale museum in this country devoted to picture book art.

We arrived just in time for my two-year-old to participate in Story Time which was being held in the museum’s wonderful library. Of course, my shy little dickens pushed her way through the crowd to sit cross-legged in front of the presenter where she immediately got involved in the interaction, then clapped wholeheartedly when a guitar suddenly appeared.

Afterward, we scurried to the exhibit halls where we were delighted by the magnificent art of Tomie DePaola (DRAWINGS FROM THE HEART: TOMIE DEPAOLA TURNS 75, July 3-Nov. 1, 2009) and Ernest Shepard who illustrated the classic Pooh books written by A. A. Milne (THE WORLD OF POOH: SELECTIONS FROM THE PENGUIN YOUNG READERS GROUP COLLECTION, May 15-Nov. 1, 2009) But by far, our favorite was 80/40: CELEBRATING THE BIRTHDAYS OF ERIC CARLE AND THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR. (Feb. 10-Aug. 30, 2009) Even my little one was enthralled with the early renderings of this famous and well loved book. Did you know the original draft was called, “A Week with Willi the Worm”? It was Mr. Carle’s editor who suggested he change it to a caterpillar and the book evolved from there to sell more than twenty-nine million copies!

Our next stop was to the Art Studio where our little group sat at a table and was given paper, brushes and paints to create our own water color masterpieces. Inspired by the prior exhibit I painted a lovely butterfly while my daughter designed her own Picasso. Apparently the activities and materials in the studio change regularly and are inspired by the present exhibitions. It was a difficult task to remove my child from the studio and after prying the paint brush out of her hand I managed to usher her into the gift shop on a bribe that I would buy her her own set of museum paints. Needless to say, I did so and also splurged on a few of my favorite classic picture books as well: THE LITTLE HOUSE, MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL, and MAYBELLE THE CABLE CAR all by Virginia Lee Burton, as well as THE STORY OF FERDINAND by Munro Leaf.

All in all, I found the Eric Carle Museum to be a refreshing and enlightening place for a struggling picture book writer such as myself to spend an afternoon. If I still lived in the area I would absolutely take part in the many events and activities offered there on a continual basis. From ‘MEET THE ILLUSTRATOR’ activities to workshops and classes, this is the perfect stop for anyone interested in being part of the picture book industry or those who are simply in love with the craft. But be forewarned, unless you are partial to picture books, are a devoted fan, and delight in this genre, you may not find yourself duly entertained. In fact, although my daughter and I had a most enjoyable time, my comrade and her nine year old remained uninspired. In fact, I think I may have heard the word “boring” used once or twice. Suffice it to say, I could see their point. This isn’t a fun-filled, interactive museum and for those who are non-bookish folk there could be a problem maintaining interest. But like everything else, what appeals to some, may not appeal to others. As for me, I give the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art five very big thumbs up and highly recommend it to all my like-minded colleagues. Go check it out!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

YALSA's Top Ten Teen Reads for 2009

The Young Adult Library Services Association(YALSA), along with the American Library Association (ALA) is looking for the top ten teen reads of 2009. Voting is open to teens from August 24th to September 18th. Teens can access the ballot at Among the nominated entries selected are

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins,

FLYGIRL by Sherri L. Smith,

BREAKING DAWN by Stephanie Meyers,

ETERNAL by Cythia Leitich-Smith and many more.

Teens who take the time to vote will be entered to win Sherman Alexie's THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN. So check it out, and vote for your favorites!

-Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

Monday, August 24, 2009

Short Sabbatical

Hey all you Fractured Keyboard Fans,

I just wanted to let you know I haven't abandoned you. I have been away for a month and am just trying to catch up on all those writing related things that have fallen by the wayside in my absence. As soon as I'm back on track I will be back to posting. I will start with my recent visit to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. If you're a picture book lover like I am, you won't want to miss it!

See you soon!

Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

Monday, July 13, 2009


I, like my 2 year old daughter, and many other little girl's across the country am a HUGE fan of the Fancy Nancy books by Jane O'Connor. I find them fun and cute and my daughter, who can be a little diva in her own right, adores them for the same silly reason. In our home, we tend to devour Fancy Nancy and other books like it where a wonderfully independent female character refuses to conform and pushes forth her own brand of uniqueness. I recently had the opportunity to review a great picture book, UNIQUE MONIQUE for Curled Up With a Good Kid’s Book. You can see it here:

In it, Monique is tired of being just like everyone else, so like every independent woman should, she takes matters into her own hands and proves just how unique she really is.

This apparently struck a chord with my daughter who, during a recent shopping expedition, thrilled at the chance to look just like Monique! I know, seems more copy cat-like than unique, but her reaction, which came many months after discovering Maria Rousaki’s engaging young feminist, Monique, showed me that the character’s strong-will resonated and stuck with my little one. As she grows and moves from toddlerdom to little girl and then (sob) young lady, I hope Monique’s influence will stay with her. I hope that she, and many other little girls, will stand strong and strive to make their own unique way in this world.

There are many great books out there that I think encourage little ladies to grow up feeling empowered. Books that prove they can make a difference. Here are a few of my favorites:

AMELIA & ELEANOR GO FOR A RIDE by Pam Munoz Ryan & illustrated by Brian Selznick
YOU FORGOT YOUR SKIRT AMELIA BLOOMER! By Shana Corey & Illustrated by Chesley Mclaren
MOSES by Carole Boston Weatherford & illustrated by Kadir Nelson
I COULD DO THAT! By Linda Arms White & illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
THE BALLOT BOX BATTLE by Emily Arnold McCully
FANNIE IN THE KITCHEN by Deborah Hopkinson & illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
A IS FOR ABIGAIL by Lynne Cheney & illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser

I too, have a few manuscripts that I hope will one day offer their own brand of encouragement for the little ladies. In the meantime, I’m still awaiting “the call” with a contract offer for them. Someday, I anticipate my own books will stand tall alongside those listed above. Of course, when that day comes, I will certainly let you know.


Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


In last week’s blog post, during my woe-is-me diatribe, I wrote, and I quote:

“I read lots and lots of books. Most of which are YA and PB, and let me tell you, I’ve run across quite a few stinkers in the bunch. How often have you read a book that really sucks and you wonder how on earth this person ever found someone to publish it? How often have you thought, “My stuff is way better than this?” Those are the times that seem to push me under the furthest. Even my children give me similar sentiments after reading a particularly boring or just plain senseless book. “Mom, why can’t you get published? You’re stuff is way better than this junk!”

Afterwards, I had a reader say to me. “You think a lot of what’s published today is junk?”

My immediate response was, “Of course not!” However, looking back, and reading it over, I can see how my comments may have been construed that way. For the record, let me please say there are a lot of really awesome books out there. But yes, I still think there are some that are not quite so stellar. Like with any type of media out there, some are good, some are great, and some just make you go “hmmm”. Look at it this way, I hear people say all the time that there is a lot of crap on TV. these days. And they’re right. But on the flip side, there are some really awesome shows on the air too. It’s subjective. We all see the world differently and that’s what makes us all unique.

So, to show you all that I don’t think the publishing industry is pumping out a lot of “junk” I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you about some books I’ve recently come across that I think are impressive. Some of them are widely popular, and some aren’t. But either way, these are the books I’ve read lately and thought, “Yes, outstanding!” These are the books that, in my opinion, captured not just the eye of an editor, but their heart and soul too.

I AIN’T GONNA PAINT NO MORE! Written by Karen Beaumont and illustrated by David Catrow is an amazingly brilliant and fun book. With just enough naughtiness to keep your little one giggling this very cute picture book is one you and your kids will want to read again and again!

ALLEY LOO, Written by C.E. Walz and illustrated by Pamela Wedel is a spooky swamp story told in verse. This colorful story has just enough intrigue to keep your little ones on the edge of their seat and just when you think it might be safe to come out in the swamp again, this author and illustrator have you running for cover!

I’M NOT AFRAID OF THIS HAUNTED HOUSE, written by Laurie Friedman and illustrated by Teresa Murfin. This scary tale of one boy’s journey into a haunted house is written in bloodcurdling verse. Take cute, fun and creepy and roll it all into one and you’ve summed up this delightfully chilling story. The twist at the end lightens the mood quickly and will earn a good hearty chuckle from all.

GONE by Michael Grant takes a good hard look at how life might be if kids ran the world. When every adult over the age of fifteen disappears, chaos reigns. As the children realize their world has shrunk down to a perimeter inside a weird dome-like enclosure they wonder if there is still life outside the FAYZ. Food is running in short supply and there is nobody to take care of the little ones. But the biggest question of all is what will happen when they turn fifteen? (HUNGER is the sequel and is available now.)

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins is a post apocalyptic thriller which takes reality TV. to a whole new level. When Katniss Everdeen’s sister is chosen to participate in the deadly Hunger Games, Kat quickly volunteers to take her place. But how can someone from the poor twelfth district expect to survive? (CATCHING FIRE, the sequel is due out in Sept. 2009.)

THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher is a powerfully moving story you won’t be able to put down. When Clay Jensen receives a strange package from his dead classmate, Hanna Baker, who committed suicide, he can’t help but be drawn in as Hannah’s voice explains the thirteen reasons why she killed herself and the part Clay and twelve other classmates played in her demise.

FLYGIRL by Sherri L. Smith is a realistic look at the life of a colored girl who dreams of getting her pilot’s license. As the war looms upon the United States, Ida Mae Jones answers Uncle Sam’s call and risks her own identity to become one of the elite few who make it into the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) program. This historically accurate tale will leave you cheering for the underdog and reveling in her victory.

NATURE’S LULLABY, written by Niki Schoenfeldt and illustrated by Tray Summerall is a sweet story about a boy and his grandfather sharing a warm summer eve. From the familiar chirp of the cricket to the soulful note of the barn owl, the night come alive with song and the soothing melody puts both to sleep. But is there something sinister lurking nearby? (A little shameless self-promotion.)

I could go on and on, but I won’t. However, I have decided to run a regular feature on this blog mentioning great reads from time to time as I run across them. Again, realize “great read” is simply my own interpretation of these works. In the meantime, Kudos goes out to those writers, illustrators, editors, agents and publishers, who work tirelessly to get the AWESOME stuff out there so we readers can voraciously scoop them up. Keep the good “junk” coming!

-Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


We’ve all heard it said, from the writer’s point of view, that this is “A Bunny Eat Bunny World,” and you know it’s true. This is not an easy profession we’ve entered into and only a few select authors can manage to support themselves with a full-time gig. I am not one of them. In fact, one day last week, I woke with the horrible conviction that it was time for me to throw in the towel. Why I felt that way, and why the feeling was so strong, I don’t know. Although there have been times in the past where the struggle toward publication felt like an uphill battle, I never reached the point where I was ready to quit; until last week. What changed? Nothing. Is my career hopeless? Maybe.

My track record is better than some and worse than others. I’ve a handful of magazine articles to my name, my first picture book (NATURE’S LULLABY) released last fall and as of today, I have three others being held for consideration at major houses. There is not a day that goes by I don’t do some form of work toward getting my manuscripts and name out there. My husband and family are very supportive and I belong to many great groups who share my passion. I also pray real hard that success will come my way. And let it be known I’m not greedy. I don’t need to be responsible for the next Harry Potter, or Twilight series. I just want my work to reach the children. I know that sounds corny, but it is truly how I feel. I read lots and lots of books. Most of which are YA and PB, and let me tell you, I’ve run across quite a few stinkers in the bunch. How often have you read a book that really sucks and you wonder how on earth this person ever found someone to publish it? How often have you thought, “My stuff is way better than this?” Those are the times that seem to push me under the furthest. Even my children give me similar sentiments after reading a particularly boring or just plain senseless book.

“Mom, why can’t you get published? You’re stuff is way better than this junk!”

Although I know they mean it as a good thing, that simple comment does major damage to my writing psyche. I mean, why IS this crap making it to print while mine sits dejectedly on an editor’s desk? When will my ship come in? Of course, the economy doesn’t help and the major slump in picture book sales doesn’t do much for my career either. But none of it explains my sudden urge to give up my writing career and my quest for publication. As the day progressed, my mood did not lighten. In fact, if anything, a dark pallor settled upon me and I shied away from the computer and books and any of the things connected with the industry. Bunny eat bunny, indeed. I felt like I had been chewed up and spit out by Peter and Benjamin Bunny both.

When my work time rolled around,(daughter’s nap time)I realized it was time to take a good hard look at myself and my work. Admittedly, some of my manuscripts could use another revision, but some of them are spot on. As I sat amidst the gloom of my shaded bedroom ignoring all media outlets, I thought about those manuscripts that don’t need more work. The ones I truly believe are ready. These works of mine were composed of passion and a burning need to create. I realized I couldn’t stop writing if I tried. And why bother writing if it is not for the world to see? No, I am NOT ready to give up. Perseverance is key. With a little luck, a lot of persistence and the talent I know I possess, I will get more bites, I will see my work in print and I will not be quitting anytime soon! So, bunny eat bunny, or dog eat dog, I am the alpha and I refuse to lose.

So now, with new conviction, I have forced my doubts aside. I will keep moving forward against a tide which keeps pushing me back. Because I know my stuff is worthy and one day I will find that editor or agent who believes it too.

Now, my only hope is that the day comes while I’m still living and breathing. It would be just my luck that my writing finally comes to fruition posthumously in an Emily Dickenson sort of way. I guess I am still holding on to a few teensy weensy doubts. But hey, I’m still writing; are you?

Monday, June 8, 2009


We literary bloggers must stick together. Fellow blogger, A wandering Heart, is sponsoring a contest on her blog. You can win an advance reader copy of Suzanne Collins CATCHING FIRE!

CATCHING FIRE is the much talked about sequel to THE HUNGER GAMES. If you haven't yet read THE HUNGER GAMES,you're really missing out and I suggest you get yourself a copy soon. For those of you who have, remember, unless you get your hands on an ARC, you've got to wait until September 1, 2009 to find out what's next for Katniss Everdeen.

Which brings me back to my original point. For a chance to win an ARC and be among the chosen few who learn Kat's fate before the official release, go to this link:

and enter. I'd love to wish you luck, but I don't want to jinx the win for myself. After all, I'm hooked and I'm not really sure I can wait three months before immersing myself in a really exceptional read. Every man/woman for him/herself!


Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I was lucky enough to attend a small picture book conference in beautiful Beaufort, SC, last weekend. I enjoyed the fact that it was a small gathering as opposed to the massive crowds I experienced in New York back in February. There were three editors in attendance and all were very approachable. The small number of attendees made for a cozier environment and the information shared was in abundance.

Maggie Lehrman, Editor from Abrams Books for Young Readers and Amulet Books, Noa Wheeler, Associate Editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers and Jill Dembowski, Assistant Editor at Little Brown Books for Young Readers shared with us their knowledge and a few tips of the trade. Here is a rundown of what they had to say:

They are intrigued by old themes written with a fresh perspective. (THE TRUE STORY OF THE THREE LITTLE PIGS by Jon Scieszka) Send them humor, but not scatological (gross) humor. They are tired of farts and poop! None of them want to see any more Grandparent stories. The market is flooded with them. Too often, writers send manuscripts written more for adults. It is integral we, as writers, remember to write our stories from the kid’s perspective. After all, it is for them we are writing.

Send your work along with a well-written cover letter. Typos and misspellings make them question a manuscript before they’ve even had a chance to look at it. Be meticulous and keep it quick and to the point. Mention your published works only if they are some that the editor will recognize. If your work has been published in your school newspaper, leave it out. Don’t compare your work to that of other best-selling books. (My book will be the next Harry Potter!) Use a simple font; twelve point, Times New Roman is best.

Keep the text of your manuscript short. Remember, picture books have pictures! Leave room for the illustration to pick up some of the story. Say a lot with a few words. Every word you write in a picture book must count. There is no room for weedy words or long description in this genre. Try to keep your manuscripts around five hundred words or less. (HUSH LITTLE DRAGON by Kelly Murphy is only 200 words.) Take a picture book you like and type it out. See how it looks on the page and try and adapt your own work in the same way.

Poetry is a tough sell. Rhyme and rhythm is hard to do and even harder to do well. There is always room for stories in rhyme, but most are picked up by authors who already have a reputation in that area.

If your book has silly or strange elements, make sure they aren’t there simply for nonsense sake. Somehow, somewhere you book needs to be grounded in reality. Even nonsense has to make sense.

As most of you know, the picture book market has fallen drastically from where it was a few years back. Of course, the present economy doesn’t help. However, all represented imprints are still acquiring material. But be aware, they are VERY selective about what they publish. Your submission must stand out, have marketability and most important, it must have staying power. It takes a long time for a picture book to make money. Your publisher wants it to stay in print long enough to be profitable. Publishing is a business after all.

And finally, all editors agree; the best thing you can do to get your work published is to GET AN AGENT.

-Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Carole Boston Weatherford dishes about her new book; BECOMING BILLIE HOLIDAY


I’m honored to have you here at The Fractured Keyboard. I read your new book, BECOMING BILLIE HOLIDAY, in less than a day. I’m normally not a fan of books in verse, but I couldn’t put yours down. What made you choose to write this book in verse instead of simple prose?
Billie Holiday conveyed enormous emotion in her small voice. Poetry was the ideal medium to capture the lyricism of her life story and the mood of her music.

What inspired you to write about Billie Holiday and why as a YA and not a PB like some of your other biographies? (I, MATTHEW HENSON – BEFORE JOHN WAS A JAZZ GIANT – JESSE OWENS: FASTEST MAN ALIVE – MOSES)
Billie Holiday is my muse and she enlisted me to write the book. She lived an R-rated life. So that ruled out a picture book.

Was there anything you learned during your research that challenged or changed your perceptions about Billie?
I did get to know her a bit better. I discovered that she loved movies and read pulp fiction, that she loved dogs and hated insects. She was a hopeless romantic beneath her street-smart exterior.

An illustrated novel for Young Adults is not the norm. How did the decision to include illustrations in your book come about?
That was the publisher’s decision—and a good one, if I do say so myself.

Floyd Cooper’s artwork is amazing. Did you choose him to illustrate BECOMING BILLIE HOLIDAY? Has he illustrated any of your other books? The publisher chose Floyd Cooper. Becoming Billie holiday was our first collaboration. I hope for another chance to work together.

How long did it take to complete BECOMING BILLIE HOLIDAY, from concept to final release?
About two and a half years.

Why did you end the book in the middle of Billie Holiday's career?I wanted end on a high note rather than to rehash Billie Holiday's heartbreaking decline. At the peak of her fame, 25-year-old Billie could not have imagined that she would die broke at age 44 of liver failure due to drug and alcohol abuse. But she may have sensed that her legacy would endure through her music.

BECOMING BILLIE HOLIDAY, like most of your books, is very powerful. In fact, one poem in particular held a certain resonance or punch for me. It is the one called AIN’T NOBODY’S BUSINESS IF I DO. I felt it summed up the lives of so many American youth. Do you hope to inspire these children with your writing? Billie Holiday, who was born Eleanora Fagan, used art to transcend her circumstances—poverty, parental neglect, rape, racism, and domestic abuse. Perhaps Eleanora suffered so Billie Holiday could sing.

How many books have you published? Are they all for children?
I have 32 books, 27 of which are for young people.

Can you tell us a little bit about your path to publication? Were there any hurdles along the way?
I got my first two contracts by dropping names in cover letters. I knew somebody who knew somebody. My first book, JUNTEENTH JAMBOREE, was published by Lee and Low in 1995. I struck options clauses from contracts and proceeded as a free agent, submitting my work to various houses as I worked my way up the industry’s feeding chain. Awards helped me get my foot in the door even though my subject matter was sometimes obscure. Perseverance has been key to my success. I just keep plugging until some editor sees the potential or value in what I have written.

I notice MOSES was published by Jump At The Sun/Hyperion. That is a closed house. Can you tell us how you got them to look at your manuscript?
An editor called to invite me to submit.

Is there a discussion/reading guide available for MOSES and some of your other titles?
There are study guides for several of my books. I provide links from my web site:

Thank you so much for stopping by The Fractured Keyboard! It’s been a pleasure having you here with us today. On behalf of myself and everyone who pops in, we wish you the best of luck with BECOMING BILLIE HOLIDAY. As usual, I really think you’ve got a winner!

-Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

Be sure and check out my reviews for some of Carole's other books:


Wednesday, April 22, 2009


When I first began my writing career, these three words: SHOW, DON’T TELL, grated on me worse than fingernails down a blackboard. I just didn’t get it. Time and again, I thought, “I am TELLING a story! What is the problem?” Then somewhere down the line I finally figured it out. It didn’t come to me like a sudden epiphany, but at some point, it all started to make sense. And when it did, I realized just how important those three words really are to a well-written story.

Let me begin by saying my first impression was wrong. As a writer, I thought I was supposed to simply TELL a great story. Not so. I soon learned that my job isn’t to TELL a story, but to thrust my reader smack-dab into the action where they can experience it first-hand. As you can imagine, much of my early work read more like a newscast where the reader understood my story, but never connected with it.

Here's an example:

Then suddenly, after all this time, Annie received a letter from Grandma’s lawyer, Mr. Barclay, asking her to come to Charlotte Immediately. Daddy was in trouble and he knew a way that she could help. She immediately called Mark. He was overjoyed and agreed to meet her at the bus station the next day.

The above paragraph came from page 2 of a manuscript. Page 1 was filled with backmatter. But that's another article for another day. From it, you get the basic gist of what is going on but not the whole picture. You understand only what I’ve TOLD you, but you probably don’t feel like a part of it. Because I’ve left you on the outside looking in, you’re unattached. You have no real feel for Annie, her Dad, Mark or the situation.

Now, here’s the rewrite:

Four years after Annie’s last visit to Charlotte, she received a letter.

Dear Annie,

My name is Ambrose Barclay and I was retained as legal counsel by your late Grandmother, Theodora Davis, before her death. It has recently come to my attention that her property at 582 Magnolia Drive, which is presently inhabited by your Father, Maxwell Davis, will soon go into foreclosure. Due to legal matters and a secret trust set up by my client, I ask that you, as beneficiary, come to Charlotte immediately to stop these proceedings.

Annie booked a ticket for the next day then called her old friend Mark.

“Hello,” Mark’s familiar voice shot through the line.

“Hi, Mark, it’s Annie.”

“Annie! Great hearing from you. What’s going on?”

“Well, it looks like something’s happening at Grandma’s place.”

“Yeah,” Mark agreed. “Something sure isn’t right over there. The place is practically falling apart.”

Annie blinked back tears. Gran had been so meticulous.

“I bet Dad’s gold-digging wife has something to do with it," she said. "I’m heading there tomorrow on the bus. Can I stay at your house?”

“Hey, that’d be great!” Mark answered. “I’ll pick you up at the station.”

From the rewrite, you get a lot more than just the gist of the situation. Instead of TELLING you what happened, I’ve SHOWN you and let you experience it first-hand the same way the main character does. You know exactly what happened and, if I've done my job right, you should feel some sort of attachment to the story that you didn’t feel upon reading the original.

One way I SHOWED in the rewrite is with the use of dialog. In the real world, information is usually passed from one person to the next by the use of language. In books and stories, dialog is a great way to give information too. But make sure it is realistic and not an information dump. (See article: Dialog Despair.) Another way I SHOWED more than TOLD is by sharing the media-related info with you. Instead of telling you about the contents of Annie’s letter, I actually let you read it; or at least the important parts.

SHOWING instead of TELLING takes practice, but once you get into the habit, you shouldn’t have any trouble. Here are a few tips to help you recognize areas where you might be TELLING and how to change it to SHOWING:

- Don’t TELL your reader how a character feels.

Example: Martha was disappointed when her Dad didn’t make it to the party.

Instead, SHOW Martha’s disappointment through her words and actions:

Example: Martha wore a fake smile as she said goodbye to her guests. She shut the door behind the last one and leaned against it. “He didn’t make it, again.”

- Never tell the reader what another character says.

Example: Kevin’s Mom said he could go to the park with Ron.

Instead, show the exchange.

Example: “Mom, can I go to the park with Ron?” Kevin asked.
“Sure,” Mom answered.

- Watch out for those unnecessary adverbs.

Example: He walked dejectedly away from the jeering crowd.

Instead, show his feelings without the crutch of a flimsy adverb. Beef it up.

Example: Head hung low, he left the jeering crowd for the safety of home.

So, if you want to be a better writer, stop TELLING stories. Instead, breathe some life into them and SHOW the world the exciting tales that stem from your imagination. Let your reader experience the excitement, the drama, and the emotion as it occurs. Because after all, readers don't want to just read a story, they want to live it!

-Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Special Guest Coming to The Fractured Keyboard!

I am pleased to announce that on Thursday, April 30, 2009, The Fractured Keyboard will host a very special guest. I hope you will join me in welcoming New York Times best-selling author and award winning poet, Carole Boston Weatherford!

Carole’s new book, BECOMING BILLIE HOLIDAY is a fictional verse memoir for young adults, recently released by Wordsong. She will be stopping by to tell us all about it, including her fascination/connection to the bluesy singer and why her tale is best told in this particular style.

If you have any questions you’d like to ask Carole, please add them to the comment section here and I will try to include them in the interview.

Watch the book trailer for BECOMING BILLIE HOLIDAY:

Sunday, March 15, 2009


In my last post, FIRST LINES; YOU ONLY GET ONE CHANCE TO MAKE A FIRST IMPRESSION, I blogged about first lines in differing genres. In some recent conferences I attended, first lines in longer works was a subject that came up more than once. It seems “the hook” is a tool used more and more by today’s novelists to snare you and drag you into their work right from the very start. As someone who has written mostly picture book manuscripts, I wondered how this technique plays out in shorter pieces. In my humble opinion, I think the first line of an 800 word or less story must have every bit of impact as it does in a full-length novel and then some. In a picture book, every word must be chosen carefully and be important toward moving the story along. After all, there is no room for heavy description, back story, or explanations. You must tell a strong, compelling tale in a simple, straightforward form. And yet, amidst that simplicity, there must be fun and excitement. Not an easy task. Therefore, grabbing your audience from the get-go seems like a no brainer. The picture book market is tough right now. The economy has thrown in its own wrench and competition is fierce. If you want your wok to catch the eye of and editor or agent in these tough times, you need to get them on the hook before they even have a chance to swallow the bait.

In my last post, I listed the first lines from numerous picture books taken from my own bookshelf. What did you think? Did they all grab your attention and make you want to read on, or did some fall short? I realize this is a subjective exercise, but I’d like to share my assessments with you. Remember, these books are ones I have purchased and enjoy. (Which means I’m a fan of all them.) I want to look at these first lines as though I am an editor/agent and have just pulled them from my slush pile. Remember, I’ve got lots to go through and my time is valuable. In order for me to continue reading and considering, there has to be something in these first lines that grabs me. (I’m liking this role way too much. Pinch me and remind me who I really am.) So here goes:

WE’RE GOING ON A BEAR HUNT by Michael Rosen: We’re going on a bear hunt.
*Same as the title. Doesn’t hook me, but makes me think that I haven’t given it a chance, so I would probably read a little more to see where it’s going.

THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR by Eric Carle: In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf.
*This one piques my curiosity; especially if I look at it from a child’s viewpoint. Little kids think of eggs in terms of birds and nests. I think they would want to know what an egg is doing laying on a leaf at night. I probably would continue.

GOODNIGHT MOON by Margaret Wise Brown: In the great green room, there was a telephone and a red balloon.
*Other than the musical quality of this line, I think it is rather boring. Not much is happening and there doesn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary. Not sure I’d continue. Don’t see a hook here. (And boy would I be wrong! This is a classic favorite!)

SNOWMEN AT NIGHT BY Carolyn Buehner: One wintry day I made a snowman, very round and tall.
*This is a tough one. I think for stories in verse, it is not so much the first line, but the whole first verse which should be considered. This first line doesn’t have much impact, but the second line, which is part of the first verse, definitely piques my curiosity and makes me want to read more: “The next day when I saw him, he was not the same at all!”

I LOVE YOU STINKY FACE by Lisa McCourt: Mama said, “I love you, my wonderful child.”
*This is a really cute book. I love it and my kids love it, but this first line is dull. No hook.

BEAR SNORES ON by Karma Wilson: In a cave in the woods, in his deep, dark lair, through the long, cold winter sleeps a great brown bear.
*Although there isn’t much happening here, the way it was written really catches my interest. I want to read on to find out what goes on in that deep, dark lair! I’m hooked.

THE CAT IN THE HAT BY Dr. Seuss: The sun did not shine.
*This book is written in verse too. However, nothing about the first sentence has a musical or lyrical quality to it that would make me realize this. Taking only that first simple sentence into consideration, I’d say, no hook. But if I consider the whole first verse, written in three simple sentences, it does make me wonder what these kids are going to do to liven up the day. Here’s the whole verse: The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house all that cold, cold, wet day.

STREGA NONA by Tomie dePaola: In a town in Calabria, a long time ago, there lived an old lady everyone called Strega Nona, which meant “Grandma Witch.”
*This seems like a lot of information thrown into one sentence, but the “witch” part did catch my attention.

FANCY NANCY by Jane O’Connor: I love being fancy.
*This is the opposite of the above. It seems kind of vague. However, I can’t help but wonder where this is going and am compelled to continue. I’m hooked.

HENRY’S FREEDOM BOX by Ellen Levine: Henry Brown wasn’t sure how old he was.
*What kind of person doesn’t know how old he is? I must read on and find out. Hooked.

THE WRIGGLY, WRIGGLY BABY by Jessica Clerk: Once there was a baby who wriggled real bad.
*This is also a book written in verse and the first line is only part of that first verse. But even so, this first line has got me wondering about this wriggly baby. I want to find out more. Hooked.

HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! By Dr. Seuss: Every Who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot, but the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville, did NOT!
*The hook is sunk deep for this one. Of course I must read on. I have to find out who on earth is the Grinch and how could he possibly not love Christmas?!!! This is the best first line of all the books listed.

AMELIA AND ELEANOR GO FOR A RIDE by Pam Munoz Ryan: Amelia and Eleanor were birds of a feather.
*Not a very compelling hook, but a hook nonetheless. At this point I’m not sure who Amelia and Eleanor are, but I am curious to know what makes them birds of a feather.

HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY GOOD NIGHT? By Jane Yolen: How does a dinosaur say good night when Papa comes in to turn off the light?
*Well, I don’t think this hook has caught me by the throat, but it definitely captures my curiosity. I mean, how does a dinosaur say goodnight? And do they have fathers who tuck them in?!

YOU FORGOT YOUR SKIRT, AMELIA BLOOMER! By Shana Corey: Amelia Bloomer was NOT a proper lady.
*Who was Amelia Bloomer and what did she do that was improper? I’m hooked, tell me more.

And of course, my own first line from NATURE’S LULLABY: “Hurry,” Grandpa whispered, “the night creatures are getting ready to sing!”
*Okay, as I’ve mentioned, this first lines thing is new to me. When I started looking at first lines, I didn’t even remember what the opening line of my book was, or how I’d fare. Needless to say, I think I did fairly well. Grandpa is obviously hurrying someone along and he’s whispering, so he’s definitely got my attention. But now I also need to find out about the night creatures are and why they are singing. Hopefully you want to know too. If so, you can buy my book and I’ll happily send you an autographed copy! (She shamelessly plugs her own work.)

All in all, I thought this was an interesting exercise and I enjoyed applying it to the PB genre. I think it gave me a small glimpse into what editors/agents might look for when they pick up a manuscript, knowing they have hundreds more to sift through. Not an easy job. Something needs to stand out in order for them to keep reading. And yet, sometimes, because of a bad first line, they just might end up passing on the next HARRY POTTER. (I would have passed on GOODNIGHT MOON and we all know how that one turned out.) Let’s face it, not all best sellers have killer beginnings. Editors/Agents aren’t infallible. They, like us writers, are only human.

So what I’ve learned and what I hope to pass on to you is that we absolutely MUST hook that editor/agent from the get-go if we want a fair shake. From the very first line we NEED to make them want more. There’s an old saying that says, “leave them begging for more.” As a writer competing in this difficult bunny eat bunny world of publishing, that must be our motto. For every word you write, for every story you conceive, put it together in such a way that you’ve left them begging for more. After all, once that awesome book makes the NYT Bestseller list, there could always be room for a sequel!

-Niki Masse Schoenfeldt

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Lately it seems I’ve been hearing a lot about first lines. This is something I’ve never really given much thought to. And yet, if you stop and think about it, your first line is the first glimpse an editor or agent will see of your manuscript. If you can wow them from the very first line you just might end up standing out in the crowd. The crowd being the other thousands of manuscripts that run across that editor/agent’s desk. Even if your book isn’t picked up, you have hopefully left a lasting impression and that editor/agent will remember your name and look forward to your next submission.

At the recent SCBWI Winter Conference, Bruce Hale gave us his best advice in writing for middle graders. His number one rule was “grab them from the get go.” Mr. Hale believes the opening line must be your hook. He quoted the first line from CHARLOTE’S WEB by E.B. White as an example: “Where’s Papa going with that axe?”

At the SCBWI-Carolinas Conference this fall, I had the pleasure of attending Mark Johnston’s workshop called: TENSION: Where the Story Begins. He, like Mr. Hale thinks tension should begin as early as possible. He shared with us first lines from other award-winning works. Here are a few of them:

HAMLET by William Shakespeare: “Who’s there?”

Holes by Louis Sachar: There is no lake at Camp Greenlake.

HARRY POTTER by J.K. Rowling: Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

By beginning your story with tension, you immediately involve the reader. You’ve piqued their curiosity and thus forced them to delve deeper into your work, in order to find answers. It is obvious from these examples, this is a tried and true technique used by the pros and proven by the popularity of their best-selling novels. But does the same apply to shorter works?

As a writer who has been primarily involved in the picture book genre I can’t help but wonder how this same technique might apply there. Coming up with a whole story, including a beginning, middle and end in 800 words or less is no easy task. It seems to me the first line has even more relevance in this genre and must make a greater impact. Therefore, I decided to take a look at the first lines of some of my old favorites and even some popular contemporary titles. Here they are:

WE’RE GOING ON A BEAR HUNT by Michael Rosen: We’re going on a bear hunt.

THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR by Eric Carle: In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf.

GOODNIGHT MOON by Margaret Wise Brown: In the great green room, there was a telephone and a red balloon.

SNOWMENT AT NIGHT BY Caralyn Buehner: One wintry day I made a snowman, very round and tall.

I LOVE YOU STINKY FACE by Lisa McCourt: Mama said, “I love you, my wonderful child.”

BEAR SNORES ON by Karma Wilson: In a cave in the woods, in his deep, dark lair, through the long, cold winter sleeps a great brown bear.

THE CAT IN THE HAT BY Dr. Seuss: The sun did not shine.

STREGA NONA by Tomie dePaola: In a town in Calabria, a long time ago, there lived an old lady everyone called Strega Nona, which meant “Grandma Witch.”

FANCY NANCY by Jane O’Connor: I love being fancy.

HENRY’S FREEDOM BOX by Ellen Levine: Henry Brown wasn’t sure how old he was.

THE WRIGGLY, WRIGGLY BABY by Jessica Clerk: Once there was a baby who wriggled real bad.

HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! By Dr. Seuss: Every Who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot, but the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville, did NOT!

AMELIA AND ELEANOR GO FOR A RIDE by Pam Munoz Ryan: Amelia and Eleanor were birds of a feather.

HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY GOOD NIGHT? By Jane Yolen: How does a dinosaur say good night when Papa comes in to turn off the light?

YOU FORGOT YOUR SKIRT, AMELIA BLOOMER! By Shana Corey: Amelia Bloomer was NOT a proper lady.

And of course, my own first line from NATURE’S LULLABY: “Hurry,” Grandpa whispered, “the night creatures are getting ready to sing!”

In my next post, I’ll be sharing my thoughts and conclusions. I think, looking at books in this context, or first line mentality, is an interesting way to analyze my own work. That said, I’d very much like to know your take on first lines in picture books. Do these opening sentences grab you from the get-go? Do they plop you into the tension immediately? Do they pique your interest, and make you want to read more? Do some of them fall a little short on the excitement factor? If so, why? How do you think this exercise might affect your work? Do you care to share some of your own first lines?

Please add your wonderful insights to the comments section of this post and be sure to involve your friends. As the picture book market slumps with the economy, it is harder and harder to find a publisher willing to take a chance on such an expensive endeavor. Could your first line be the difference between a contract and a rejection? Let’s find out together.

-Niki Schoenfeldt

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

AGENTS PANEL: Selling Your Work in These Economic Times

With the economy on the downslide and no upswing in sight, we children’s writers, like everyone else, worry how it will affect our livelihoods. At the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York, four agents assembled in front of the crowd to discuss their take on the economic crisis and told us a little about themselves and their agencies. Here’s what they had to say:

Michael Stearns, Firebrand Literary:
-The market is constantly changing, but it always rebounds.
Firebrand is a small and fairly new literary agency. It is their practice to pool their thoughts together during the editorial process. Therefore, each agent is familiar with what one another is working with.
-Not a big fan of multiple submissions but wants to know if you send him one.

Alyssa Eisner Henkin, Trident Media:
-People don’t want to scrimp on their kids. Even during hard times, children’s books usually do well.
Trident Media is a rather large commercial agency. They usually will take on a client by signing in them on for one year and includes all their work during that timeframe.
-Prides herself as being a hands-on agent.
-Accepts multiple submissions, but would like to be made aware of such.

Michael Bourret, Dystel & Goderich:
-There are opportunities out there, you just have to find them.
-Having an agent during difficult times is important. You need someone to be an advocate for
Dystel & Goderich is on the smaller side, which gives them the opportunity to garner more personal attention to their clients. They handle each client on a project by project basis.
-Personally handles all his own work.
-Accepts multiple submissions, but would like to be made aware of such.

Edward Necarsulmer, McIntosh & Otis:
-Times of crisis can be times of great opportunity.
McIntosh & Otis is a large firm with their own functioning film stage.
-Is the children’s dept.
-Handles all his own work.
-Believes an agent should be a career builder not someone on the lookout for a one hit wonder.
-If it’s not finished, I don’t want to see it.
-Accepts multiple submissions, but would like to be made aware of such.

All four editors agree that each submission should come to them with full disclosure. For example, if you have sent them a manuscript which you have also sent to editors on your own, please inform them of such, including who you’ve submitted it to and when. In fact, honesty seemed to be an important issue for all concerned and it was quite clear that it would easily make for a quick deal breaker. Follow the rules, be courteous and send only your best work.

Good luck!

-Niki Schoenfeldt

Friday, February 6, 2009

SPEAKERS & GUESTS: Highlights from the 2009 SCBWI Winter Conference

Yes, I made it to New York, attended the grand daddy of conferences, and I’m back here to tell you all about it! SCBWI President and co-founder, Stephen Mooser, introduced fellow founder and Executive Director, Lin Oliver. If any of you have never been fortunate enough to hear Lin speak, you’ve really miss out. She is hilarious! And best of all, she is very down-to-earth and approachable. During her career Lin has done almost everything. She is probably most known as a writer for her Hank Zipzer Books which she co-authors with Henry Winkler of HAPPY DAYS fame.

According to Lin, the 2009 SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City was attended by 1,056 people from all over the world and forty six states. Some of the countries represented were Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Albania and the UK. Unbelievable!

She started off by posting a joke-writing challenge. We were to make believe a literary character was doing a tell-all on The Oprah Winfrey Show and write the show-stopping highlight. Here are a few examples Lin shared:

Captain Underpants confesses he stole from Victoria’s Secret!

Nancy Drew reveals her secret night with the Hardy Boys!

The prize was a $15.00 gift certificate to the conference book store. I was lucky enough to receive one with my winning entry:

The Cat in the Hat is the actual designer of Aretha Franklin’s inauguration hat!

After Lin’s challenge, Author/illustrator, Jarrett Krosocyka (sounds like Krisoska) spoke about the children’s book industry and his upcoming graphic novel series, LUNCH LADY. Jarrett showed us a film he made on writer’s block starring children’s lit greats Jane Yolen, Mo Willems, Tomie dePaola, Jon Scezka and more. It was seriously funny and well worth the laugh. Here is the link if you care to have a gander:

During lunch, we were entertained by Jay Asher, author of the new book THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. His speech was titled, HOW TO SELL A BOOK IN 12 YEARS OR LESS. Obviously, this business is tough on everyone. Jay’s new book was all the buzz at the conference and sold out quickly at the bookstore. It makes one wonder why it took him 12 years to finally get published. It makes one wonder how so many great works get overlooked. It makes one wonder when it will be one’s own turn. But most of all, Jay’s speech gave hope. As most of us already know, perseverance is key.

After lunch, an absolutely outrageous announcement was made. Agent, Scot Treimel, graciously offered to listen to pitches in the lobby. As you can imagine, Mr. Treimel was swamped as folks lined up around the room just to get a chance to chew his ear in hopes of finding representation. From what I was witness to, he listened tirelessly to proposals from around 2:30 in the afternoon to at least 6:00 that night. I have decided that Mr. Treimel is absolutely crazy or just EXREMELY tolerant of us desperate-to-find-an-agent writers. My hat goes off to him!

The one and only Tomie dePaola was supposed to attend the conference, but was recovering from an illness. Thankfully, he seems to be doing much better and actually addressed the crowd over conference call after the illustrator award, named in his honor and often paid by him personally, was announced. Lin Oliver surprised Mr. dePaola with a surprise tribute only SCBWI could deliver. The Tomie dePaola Award will now be a permanent fixture at the New York Conference and funded by SCBWI.

Another honored guest was publishing giant, Richard Jackson. Mr. Jackson was quick to point out that he is “happy to be retired from publishing but not from literature.” Mr. Jackson, during his long career in children’s publishing has discovered legendary authors such as Judy Blume, Virginia Hamilton, Chris Raschka and many more. He is also the co-founder of the Bradbury Press, Orchard, DK and even his own imprint with Simon & Schuster.

To discuss the art of writing for Middle Graders, author, Bruce Hale jumped in with his own brand of entertainment including a snappy musical number. I instantly felt like I’d met him before, but I think it’s because he reminded me of a white Damon Wayans and spoke very much like fellow author, Bruce Coville.

Mr. Hale gave us his eight best tips for writing a middle grade novel. Here they are:

1. Grab them from the get go.
2. Remind them of beauty.
3. Make them laugh.
4. Hold up the mirror.
5. Make them squirm.
6. Tell them the truth.
7. Go the extra mile.
8. Write what you love.

To quote the insightful Mr. Hale, “We are creating the readers of tomorrow, and readers are leaders.”

That wraps up the speakers and guests of the 2009 SCBWI Winter Conference. Keep watching for my summation of the agent’s panel and few secrets from the editors. I’m sorry to say I don’t have any door prizes to offer, nor can I brag about winning any. Either way, I consider myself a winner by having been fortunate enough to attend. Cheers!

-Niki Schoenfeldt

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Excitement isn’t a big enough word for the opportunity I am about to partake in. I created THE FRACTURED KEYBOARD as a place for writers to come and share what they’ve learned; on their own, through classes, workshops, conferences, and other outlets. Tomorrow, I am heading to the equivalent of Oz for us writers. Yes, I am talking about the publishing capital of the world; NEW YORK CITY, baby!

For years, as a SCBWI member, I have dreamed of participating in a national event. Thanks to my wonderful husband and precious kids, my dream is about to become reality as I prepare for the SCBWI Winter Conference in the Big Apple.

On Saturday I will be attending three breakout sessions with major editors entitled, THE INSIDE SCOOP: HOW I WORK & WHAT I ACQUIRE. Then, throughout the two-day affair, I will be dazzled by clever and well-connected keynote speakers such as the famous authors Jack Gantos (JOEY PIGZA LOSES CONTROL)and Tomie DePaola (STREGA NONA)or agents, Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Trident Media or Michael Stearns from Firebrand to name a few.

As I converge upon NYC to the Mac Daddy of all conferences (at least from my point of view.) I will think of THE FRACTURED KEYBOARD and its faithful followers and I will come home ready to share my newfound knowledge. So be sure and check back soon, but in the meantime, please wish me a safe and fruitful trip for us all.



Thursday, January 15, 2009


I recently went to see the movie, MARLEY & ME, based on the NYT Bestselling book by author John Grogan. Admittedly, I have not yet read the book and although I knew the story was about a naughty dog, I assumed it would be a comedic piece. Therefore, I was very surprised at the depth of emotion the movie evoked in me and everyone else who wept openly in the theatre. I had no idea it would end the way it did.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with MARLEY & ME, it is a memoir of sorts which chronicles the life of one young couple as they embark on their life together and the building of a family; beginning of course, with the addition of a puppy. From the beginning Marley is an incorrigible animal and his hijinks do make for great humor. Although this rough and tumble canine is billed as the world’s worst dog, he manages to forge an unbreakable bond within the Grogan clan. Through good times and bad, Marley is always there. Until Father Time begins to take his toll and a decision must be made regarding the dog’s fate.

On this day, I sat in the theatre and watched John Grogan’s hauntingly familiar story play out on the screen. Amazingly, it was very much like my own and struck too close to home. In the final scenes, as Owen Wilson held and comforted his dying dog, I saw myself, doing the same thing almost exactly a year ago.

So, as a tribute to my faithful friend, Seven, and as a writing exercise with a therapeutic upside, I thought I’d like to post my essay, SEVEN & I. For those of you who are or ever have been dog owners, I’m sure you have an unlimited supply of your own brand of canine comedy. In tribute to man’s best friend, and as a simple writing practice, I ask you to post and share your fondest, funniest memories here. In fact, I'll even offer a $10.00 Books-a-Million gift card for the best one. I will choose a winner on Tuesday, January 27th, so post your submission soon! Here's mine:


I paid a $3.00 filing fee for a three-month-old stray. Had I known how badly behaved she would be, I might have left her to the Dog Officer. Upon arriving home with this yet-to-be-named imp, I opened the back door.

“Welcome to your new home,” I announced.

She promptly jumped on our new couch and threw up. Of course I felt bad for her. Poor little baby got car sick. No problem. I took her outside and tied her to the porch rail while I cleaned the mess.

Task finished, I hurried to bring her back inside. But she had other ideas. Instead of finding a puppy on my back porch, I found a brand new leash dangling from the rail, clearly bitten through by needle-sharp puppy teeth. Now what? How does one call a puppy with no name? Turns out I didn’t have to call her, she was easy to find. The house across the street raised chickens and at that very moment a considerable racket emanated from their hen house.

I found the newest member of my family happily chasing terrorized chickens haphazardly around the neighbor's yard. I desperately tried to rein in the little trouble-maker, while the chicken-lovers watched, but she was too fast and was having the time of her life! With feathers flying and gobs of chicken scat stuck to my shoes, I finally managed to grab her when she snatched up a poultry treat. Needless to say, I had saved the dog from certain euthenization, but was unable to save the chicken from the dog. So, with great apologies to my neighbor, I pried the deceased fowl from the puppy's stubborn grip and dragged her home.

Potty training was no easier. She refused to pee on paper and relieved herself whenever and wherever the mood hit. It wasn’t long before my perfectly kept home smelled like a rest room at McDonalds. Putting her outside for bathroom duties was a trial in itself. If there was a way to wiggle free from her tethers, she would be gone in a flash. Although we had finally given her a name, Seven, she still refused to acknowledge it and only returned home when she was good and ready.

We lived deep in the country back then and Seven took an affinity to the local wildlife, often bringing them home as trophies. Squirrels were her number one target and she usually managed to smuggle their dead carcasses into the house without our knowledge. One fine evening I found her tossing an opossum around the yard. When my husband picked up the lifeless creature to remove it from the yard, it curled it’s worm-like tail around his finger and gave a toothy grin. Hence the term, playing possum. But Seven’s biggest catch was the 3-point buck she herded from the woods, which very nearly struck me down. To this day, I’m not sure who was more surprised, me or Rudolph, as he charged out of the brush and I dove out of his way.

All in all, Seven remained an important and loyal member of our family for fifteen years. She was there for the births of our children. She stayed with us through our move to North Carolina and kept us safe while my husband was away. She comforted me through my miscarriages and always remained our ever-watchful protector. Her loyalty was second to none. A miserable puppy had grown to be an amazing dog. I finally made the decision to put her down when she was so stricken with arthritis that each day became a furious battle. When she looked at me with those beautiful brown eyes, devoid of their impish glow, she seemed to beg for help. I held her close and whispered of our love and devotion as Seven took her final breath, her body fully relaxed for the first time in months. She is sorely missed.

-Niki Schoenfeldt