What to expect at an Oklahoma SCBWI conference

Our Okahoma SCBWI spring conference is next month!! This year’s theme is “Ignite the Spark,” and it’s going to be incredible. There’s a great lineup of publishing professionals on the roster, and I can NOT wait.

And check out this awesome poster for the event, designed by our regional illustrator coordinator, Jerry Bennett!

Conference Ad (1)
It’s funny that it’s only been two years since I attended my first spring conference. That one was in Tulsa, too (we alternate between Tulsa and Oklahoma City) and I was really nervous about it. I had only joined SCBWI a few months before, but I made a point of attending the Critique-a-thon in January and both OKC Schmoozes before the conference, in February and March, so I had at least made a few friends. I asked if anyone wanted to rideshare (partially to ensure I’d have someone to hang with) and got three lovely ladies who agreed to ride up with me. We left early in the morning and came back late that night, and it was hands-down the best day I’d had with SCBWI, up to that point.

Anyway, I still remember how scared I was about it. Having others around me who knew what was going on helped. I was worried about 1) driving to TULSA (the horrors); 2) finding the hotel; 3) knowing where to park; 4) knowing where to go when I actually got inside the hotel…

And this was all before I even made it to the conference room!

But luckily, I had friends, I had a new dress and new shoes and a manicure and a pair of spanx and I was ready to wow everyone with my shiny new novel.

And also scared.

And if you’ve never gone to an Oklahoma SCBWI conference, maybe you feel like I did. Or maybe you’re super confident in all situations and awesome, in which case, woohoo for you! Maybe we can hang when I have to go in a new situation next time.

In the meantime, I’m gonna post a few thoughts about what you can expect at an Oklahoma SCBWI conference. Your experience may vary, but I think some things are universal.

1. People are gonna be really, really nice and welcoming.


As soon as you see our crowd at the registration table, you’ll be greeted by sincerely friendly people. We’ll be happy to see you! We want you to succeed in your publishing dreams, and we can all make that happen together!

2. The speakers are excellent – informative and highly motivational.

Also, are speakers are actively looking for new talent. Even if they’re not living in a van down by the river. (But if they are, then even more reason for them to want your fabulous book, right?)

3. Our speakers are also wildly entertaining. Always.

At least, that’s been my experience. I’ve only been to four Oklahoma SCBWI conferences now, two spring and two fall, but I’ve never been bored.

4. You’re going to learn a TON. 

The speakers WILL be incredible. Bring a notebook or laptop because your brain won’t even be able to take it all in at once. Your mind will be blown.

5. The speakers will be accessible. 

I mean, you don’t want to smother them, but they will be hanging out at certain times, and you’ll be able to visit with them. For reals.

6. You’ll get to pick up some new reading material. 

books in a wagon

Both traditionally and independently published Oklahoma authors and illustrators will have books there to purchase. You can even get them signed and take a big pile home with you!

6. You’ll meet a whole lot of people who get it.

People who love books. Who love creating books. You know…people like you.

8. You’re going to get really, really excited about writing and illustrating for children. 

big bird on roller skates

There’s an amazing energy in the air at SCBWI conferences, and it’s contagious. Before it’s over, you will be super ready to do fantastic things.

9. And you’ll believe in yourself! 

Shake off all the doubt because you CAN do this! You WILL do this! And it’s gonna be GREAT!

10. And finally…the FUN!

so fun

It might seem scary before you go (or maybe not) but trust me, it will be fun. It’ll be really fun. Yes. Seriously. As much fun as Rapunzel is having. Maybe funner. You won’t regret it.

So…will you come? Please? PLEASE?

Registration information for the SCBWI Oklahoma Spring 2015 conference

SCBWIOK on twitter



critiques and things

Our Oklahoma SCBWI spring conference is drawing near. Manuscripts for critique are due in less than two weeks. We’re really gearing up with publicity efforts. And I am turning a seriously critical eye to my first ten pages. I’m reading others’ work too, and critiquing, even though I’m not sure I’m super-fabulous at it. I’m trying.

So. I wrote that first paragraph, and I wanted to find an animated gif to go with it, and I’m not finding anything I wanted. So I went through all my gifs that have usless names like tumblr_n8wwtwooV11tuo5ngo2_250 and rewrote them with better names, like hans anna love. You know. Important stuff. And none of them were what I wanted.

And I was going to write about how I’ve been critiquing for people, and I’ve asked some people to critique my new 10 pages, and how I have critique group tonight, and now, two hours later, I’ve kind of lost steam.

So here’s one of the gifs I forgot I had. This is how I’m rolling today.



I met Jay Asher on Saturday.

He was at Best of Books in Edmond as part of his 50 States Against Bullying tour. I blogged earlier about it, because, HELLO, New York Times bestselling author Jay Asher in Oklahoma?


So we had our Oklahoma City SCBWI January critique-a-thon that morning, at a member’s beautiful, perfect house (thank you, Christy)! And afterward, some of us hurried to the bookstore – less than a mile away! How destined was that?

So we got there early and got numbers for the signing. I got #4. Sweet.

Then Jay came in. I retreated to a corner, so I could stare at his writersly perfection without being too scary. Some of our SCBWI Oklahoma members were together, talking like normal people and being cool. I relocated to their midst and pretended like my palms weren’t sweaty.

Jill, our assistant regional advisor, went and introduced herself to Jay because she’s awesome like that. Then she brought him over to meet us.

IMG_1684I remember very little of the words that led us up to this point. I do remember Jay saying that we should stand under the regional sign (because SCBWI is broken into regions). I also remember him commenting on my t-shirt, which has the Ghostbusters car following Inky and Blinky from Pac-Man on it. This was an actual thing that happened.

Ahem. So, then he spoke to us about the stories behind his novels, and his road to publication, and that was really interesting. Gave me a lot of good ideas about writing, and about patience (of which I have very little, it seems.) Afterward, we got in line, and I had him sign my copies of 13 Reasons Why and The Future of Us, plus my nephew’s copy of 13 Reasons Why. I had to buy new stuff for myself because I only had it on kindle. Stupid, stupid me.

While he signed my multitude of books, I blathered about my own writing, my blog, my twitter, and probably a bunch of other things. I thought I was playing it cool…but probably not. He was so nice though.

And then my wonderful friend Catren offered to take a picture of us.


Jay posted about his trip to Oklahoma on his blog! It includes a link to video of his appearance on News 9, his thoughts on the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, and pictures from his visit to Santa Fe High School.


A cool look at the OKC Zoo

Today I have the pleasure of featuring a different type of book on my blog!

SCBWI Oklahoma member Amy Dee Stephens writes fiction, but is also the author of two books on the Oklahoma City Zoo. I got a chance to look at her book recently, and it’s a must-see for anyone who has interest in animals, Oklahoma history, or a first-class zoo’s transformation through the years.

From the book’s description: What started as a small menagerie in 1902 officially became Oklahoma City Zoo in 1903. Journey through the second half century of its illustrious history in Oklahoma City Zoo: 1960–2013. Meet the staff and animals and explore the exhibits that propelled it from a third-class animal facility to one of the best zoos in the United States. In the 1960s, its animal population exploded as knowledge of animal care improved. The zoo soon assembled the largest-known collection of hoofed animals. Later, a rare mountain gorilla named M’Kubwa stole newspaper headlines, a third leopard escaped, and the zoo met its first cheetah babies. The opening of Aquaticus in the 1980s “brought the ocean to the prairie” in the form of a dolphin and sea lion show. Elephants, however, remain the queen attraction at the Oklahoma City Zoo. In 2011, the birth of the zoo’s first baby elephant baby, Malee, was a crowning achievement in its 110-year history.

Personally, I remember a lot of the changes that took place at the zoo, like when they built the Great EscApe when I was a kid, and the transformation of the big cat areas and new habitat for the elephants. It’s pretty dang great. If you’re in the area, you owe it to yourself to check out our zoo – and maybe pick up a copy of Amy’s books while you’re at it!

Amy was nice enough to share a press release with me about her newest book, including an informative Q&A that I enjoyed reading. Hope you do too!

Amy Dee Stephens

Amy Dee Stephens

Amy Dee Stephens announces the release of her second zoo history book,Oklahoma City Zoo: 1960-2013. Journey through the second half-century of the zoo’s history and explore the staff, animals, and exhibits that propelled it from a third-class animal facility to tone of the best zoos in the United States.  Stephens, is the education supervisor and historian for the zoo.  Her previous book,Oklahoma City Zoo: 1902-1959, covers the zoo’s first half century. 

Through text and over 250 photographs, learn how the zoo assembled the largest-known collection of hoofed animals in the 1960s.  The opening of Aquaticus in the 1980s brought the “ocean to the prairie” in the form of dolphin and sea lion shows.  Elephants, however, remained the queen attraction at the zoo, and in 2011, the bird of the zoo’s first baby elephant, Malee, was a crowning achievement in its 110-year history.
Zoo:  Why did you write this book?
book cover front 2014Amy: The zoo is such an interesting community-based institution—its story needed to be told. The publisher actually contacted me in the fall and asked that I write this volume because the first book was so successful.  I’d planned to write Part 2 someday, but that was good incentive to start. I initially planned on ending with year 2000 to round off the century, but they felt that visitors would enjoy the most current history.  Plus the zoo was coming off the major success of the elephant exhibit, and elephants are so important to our history—so the decision to write through the year 2013 was clear.  
Zoo: How long did it take to write the book?
Amy: I took off the entire month of November to work on it, and logged about 250 hours of research, writing and photo selection.  My first book took about 500 hours, but that was because the information from 100 years ago was harder to dig up, and the zoo didn’t yet have a historical archive.
Zoo:  How did you pick the stories to include? 
Amy:  I had to read thousands of newspaper articles and zoo newsletters to fully understand everything that happened over the last 50+ years.  I’ve worked here since 1998, so the recent years were easy to write because I basically lived it!
Zoo: How did you pick the photographs you used?
Amy: I went through about 20,000 images in the zoo’s archive, but many of the best photographs were from local newspapers.  The Daily Oklahoman had just donated their collection to the Oklahoma History Center and they were still unprocessed in boxes in the basement.  The staff let me go downstairs and search through those until I found 3 boxes of zoo pictures labeled “Parks, Lincoln Park.” I spent 2 days culling through those for the ones I needed.  
Zoo: Did any clear themes emerge through your research?
Amy: The influence of Zoological Society leaders like John Kirkpatrick and Byron Gambulos is profoundly clear.  In the 1960s, and 1970s, they directed the zoo both financially and foundationally.  During that time, the zoo separated from the parks department, established the public trust, and purchased large amounts of Lincoln Park land.  These decisions gave the zoo both space and freedom to further develop.  This, followed by the passage of the 1/8th cent sales tax in 1990, allowed the zoo to continually upgrade and improve.
Zoo:  Talk about the zoo changes that occurred from 1960 to the present…
Amy:  The 1950s “circus” attitude toward animals had almost disappeared at the starting point of this book.  All six zoo directors during this era were highly-motivated to keep up with the industry’s newest practices.  Some had more interest in research, others in marketing or exhibit-building, but in all cases, they were keeping an eye on the industry and saying, “Let’s do that!” Each one was an “animal person” who was very concerned about the state of wild animal populations—and conservation continues to be the growing mission of the zoo. 
Zoo:  In what ways is this book different from Oklahoma City Zoo: 1902-1959?
Amy_5499Amy: During the writing of this book, I was extremely aware that this book would receive more scrutiny—because most of the people in this book are still alive. Over 200 people are mentioned, quoted or pictured, and many more deserved mention, but I had to be true to the goal of the book: to give a positive overview of the zoo’s history and represent favorite guest memories. Most of the information from the first book was “forgotten and rediscovered.” 
Zoo:  To whom is the book dedicated?
Amy: To Donna Mobbs, who has served as administrative assistant for 30 years, for five different zoo directors—you bet she’s had an influence on this zoo!  And to my Grandmother, Myrtle Davidson, who passed away in November while I was writing the book.  She was proud of me and I miss her.    
 About Amy: Amy Dee Stephens is the education supervisor and historian for the Oklahoma City Zoo. In 2011, she curated the opening of the zoo’s history museum, the Patricia and Byron J. Gambulos Zoozeum. Her previous book, Oklahoma City Zoo: 1902–1959, covers the zoo’s first half century. 
“Oklahoma City Zoo: 1960-2013” published by Arcadia Press is available at the zoo’s gift shops, local bookstores, and online.
You can pick up your copy of Oklahoma City Zoo: 1960-2013 and Amy’s other zoo history book, Oklahoma City Zoo: 1902-1959, on the Arcadia Press website.

Only ‘Insert appropriate number’ days left til Christmas!

My NaNoWriMo project is going well. I’m glad I decided to drag a novel into it again this year. I absolutely loathe NaNo, and how it makes me feel anxious and desperate to finish on time. On the other hand, I know perfectly well that I do perform well under deadlines, and NaNo’s a great way for me to get my rear in gear and just finish already. So. I’m a few thousand over where I absolutely have to be at present, yay.

drunk vegard

Of course, November isn’t just the month to bully yourself into finishing a novel. It’s also time to think of Christmas, ha ha! (See what a great segue that was? Srsly.)

Some of my very favorite Oklahoma SCBWI members have books that are Christmas themed. If you’re looking to get in the holiday mood, it might do you well to check these out!

sauer christmasI’m gonna start with Tammi Sauer’s adorable holiday book The Twelve Days of Christmas in Oklahoma, with illustrations by Victoria Hutto. Tammi’s book takes readers on a trip all around the Sooner State, spotlighting some of the things that makes Oklahoma such an amazing place! From the description on Amazon: Are you ready for rodeos, road trips down Route 66, and more? That’s Christmas, Oklahoma-style, with magical crystal bridges, a cowboy (and girl) museum, reconstructed Native American dwellings, outlaw hideouts, and cool dune buggy rides. And don’t forget the mistletoe–Oklahoma’s floral emblem. What a happy way to spend a holiday!

And there’s several other Christmas books from Okie authors that you might enjoy.

townsend christmasUna Belle Townsend’s Racecar Driver’s Night Before Christmas, illustrated by Rick Anderson, is part of Pelican’s Night Before Christmas series, which brings new adventures of Santa Claus to eager readers each year. From Amazon’s description: After organizing a special Christmas Eve race in Daytona, drivers Junior and Michael are in for a holiday treat when a strange car pulls up on the track. It’s covered in blinking lights and tinsel and smells of green pine, and the driver is Santy Claus, who is ready to race. Racecar Driver’s Night Before Christmas is a holiday story unlike any other as Santy Claus competes for the gold in the Jingle Bell Jammer, outracing the best and leaving presents of pistons and brakes behind for the racecar drivers who have been good all year.

macy christmas 1 Carolyn Macy has two books she’s written and illustrated for the holidays. The first, Hawaiian Night Before Christmas, is also part of the Pelican line. From Amazon: It is Christmas Eve on the tropical isle of Hawaii, a holiday the locals refer to as Kalikimaka. As all of the little keiki (children) drift off to sleep, Santa surfs to the island on his outrigger canoe led by his majestic sea turtles. As he arrives at their homes, or hale, he listens as the holiday ornaments magically come to life. The decorations bob and dance all around, whispering to Santa what gifts he should leave for the children. When Santa begins to leave, mama and papa give him a lei and bid him farewell as he rides the waves out of sight.

tate christmas picCarolyn’s other holiday book is Oklahoma Night Before Christmas. From Amazon: Very seldom does Santa ever find snow covering the land in Oklahoma. This sometimes gives him problems getting all his presents to the sleeping children. In this version of the popular tale, Santa brings his gifts on a four-wheeling ATV as blasts of freezing cold sweep into the state, and even his cozy Santa suit can’t keep him warm. When radar signals pick up his flying machine, the airport controllers become concerned about the unidentified object in the sky. And then there’s that pesky raccoon that digs into Santa’s bag. Is Santa ever going to be able to complete this Christmas ride? Find out in Oklahoma Night Before Christmas.

Una Belle and Carolyn will be signing their books on Thursday, November 20 (2014) at Spanish Cove Retirement Village in Yukon, and at Full Circle Books, 50 Penn Place in Oklahoma City, on Saturday, November 22. Una Belle will also be signing at Best of Books in Edmond on December 9!


Una Belle Townsend (left) and Carolyn Macy signing their books earlier this month. Carolyn has her turtle, for Hawaiian Night Before Christmas and her raccoon puppet, for Oklahoma Night Before Christmas. Una Belle’s holding the puppets (elephant and cow) that she uses with two of her non-seasonal books, Grady’s in the Silo and Great Elephant Escape.


Want some Christmas books by Oklahoma authors? Here’s links to order on Amazon:

Twelve Days of Christmas in Oklahoma

Racecar Driver’s Night Before Christmas

Hawaiian Night Before Christmas

Oklahoma Night Before Christmas

Happy holidays!

George Ferris, What a Wheel


I had the pleasure of reading another great book by an Oklahoma author recently. Barbara Lowell’s nonfiction picture book, George Ferris, What a Wheel!, tells the story of a man who made an “impossible” dream come true.

George Ferris CoverFrom the book’s description on Amazon: Have you ever ridden a Ferris wheel? You go up, up, up and can see for miles! But when the inventor of the Ferris wheel, George Ferris, first pitched the idea, everyone thought he was crazy. A 250-foot bicycle wheel that goes around and around and carries people in train cars? Can’t be done, they said. But George proved them wrong. Read about how George’s hard work, courage, and imagination created one of the most famous fair rides today.

I went into this book knowing nothing about George Ferris. I didn’t even know the Ferris wheel was named for anyone! I did know, however, that I love Ferris wheels – even though I’ve never ridden in one with train sized cars, made to hold more than two thousand people!

George Ferris, What a Wheel! includes actual pictures of the construction and operational wheel, along with art by Jerry Hoare that makes you feel like you’re almost in the story.

It’s published by Grosset & Dunlap as part of their Penguin Core Concepts line, and covers the concepts Imagination and Problem Solving.

I’m always fascinated at nonfiction picture books – the way the authors cover the true stories completely, while still keeping things relevant and fresh for kids – really impresses me. George Ferris, What a Wheel! is no exception.

Author Barbara Lowell lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma with her husband Jim and their fabulous collie, Phil. She is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a runner-up for SCBWI’s Barbara Karlin Grant and a winner of the Katharine Patterson Prize at Hunger Mountain in the picture book category.

Valerie Lawson did a great interview with Barbara when the book came out this summer, but I asked a few questions too!

Me: How did you come up with the idea for George Ferris, What a Wheel?
Barbara: My husband was reading Devil in the White City by Erik Larson the story of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. He told me that George Ferris had designed and built an amusement wheel that could hold 2,160 passengers at the same time. I had never heard about this and couldn’t wait to read Larson’s book. When I read that Mrs. Ferris cheered a successful second test run by standing on her chair 264 feet in the air, when no glass had been installed in the car’s window, I knew I wanted to write the story.
Me: What was something interesting you discovered while researching for this book? Was there anything fascinating about his life or the World Fair that you didn’t include in the book?
Barbara: The organizers of the World’s Fair wanted something original at the fair. In large part because they wanted to outdo the Eiffel Tower, star of the 1889 Paris Exposition. They held a contest and most of the entries turned out to be bigger or more elaborate tower designs. George Ferris had not entered the contest, but responded with his amusement wheel design when he and other engineers were challenged to create something new and novel for the fair and were specifically told “not a tower.”
Me: If you could meet George Ferris, what would you say to him?
Barbara: If I could meet George Ferris, I would ask him what it was like to ride his Ferris wheel for the first time. What was he thinking and feeling?At the end of the book, there is a section called Ferris Wheel Facts. One of the facts is: “The Ferris wheel collapsed in 1906 – not in a storm, but in a controlled dynamite explosion. Its parts were sold as salvage. Sadly, George Ferris had no say in the wheel’s final outcome. He died ten years earlier at age thirty-seven of either typhoid fever or Bright’s disease, a kidney condition.” I would ask him what he would have done with the Ferris wheel. I would love to be able to see it.

Order George Ferris, What a Wheel! on Amazon!


Tumbleweed Baby launch party

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a friend’s book launch party. I’ve only been in SCBWI Oklahoma for a little more than a year, so this was my first. I’ve been to some signings and a party-after-a-book-sale though. It’s so great to get to see these things beforehand, and support my friends. I love it!

tumbleweed babyThis launch party and book signing was for Anna Myers, in celebration of her picture book, Tumbleweed Baby. Anna’s got nineteen books already for young adults and middle grade readers, but Tumbleweed Baby is her first picture book. I’ve already posted some about this book. It’s such a fun read, with a surprising end and beautiful, dreamy artwork.

The party was held at Best of Books in Edmond (which is under new ownership!) and included a readers’ theater, plus Anna read the book. SCBWI Oklahoma members Gwendolyn Hooks, Darleen Bailey-Beard and Gayleen Langthorn did a lot toward the organization of the event, including packets of tumbleweed seeds! Of course, the party was a super success and the store completely sold out of Anna’s book.

Of course, I got a lot of this second hand because my husband’s car broke down and I had to go and pick him up at work, right when the party started. And I was supposed to help. I did some – a little publicity, including getting a mention in the Oklahoman, whoot – but I didn’t feel like I did enough. It’s always a bummer when you know you could do better.

But I did get there before it was over, husband and kids in tow, even though I was too late to buy a book. We hung out and I shared some exciting news about one of my manuscripts, so that was fun. I love my SCBWI group.

And Anna’s signing again at our SCBWI Oklahoma City Schmooze on Monday night at Full Circle Books in north OKC, so I’ll get another chance to get my book there. I just need to get there earlier this time! Anna’s son, Ben Myers, will be reading some of his poetry Monday, and Anna will be main speaker. If you missed out on the launch party, come Monday night and get your copy of Tumbleweed Baby signed along with mine!

OKC SCBWI Schmooze

Monday, October 20, 2014

Full Circle Books

50 Penn Place (on the NW Expressway)

Oklahoma City

Pre-schmooze at Belle Isle Restaurant (also in 50 Penn Place) starts at 5:30 p.m. Schmooze starts at the bookstore at 7 p.m.

Tumbleweed Baby

Tumbleweed Baby is now available on Amazon!

Tumbleweed Baby is the first picture book by veteran children’s author Anna Myers, with illustrations by Charles Vess.

I got to read through a early version of this book earlier this year, and it’s pretty dang great.

tumbleweed babyFrom the book’s description on Amazon: “A large, loving family in the 1930s Dust Bowl finds a “tumbleweed baby”—a wild baby—in the plains near their cozy farm home. The baby’s new siblings discover the ways she fits and doesn’t fit into the family, ultimately deciding that her wildness makes her one of them. The rhythm and voice of the text make this feel like a classic tall tale, and it pairs perfectly with the dreamy, warm art from master illustrator Charles Vess.”

If you’re in the Oklahoma City area, you can get your book signed at the Tumbleweed Baby launch party on Tuesday, Oct. 14, 5:30-7 p.m. at Best of Books in Edmond. There’s going to be a readers’ theatre and refreshments, and Anna will be reading the book aloud. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and a great way to celebrate a fantastic new book.

Hope to see you there!

Because I’d like to buy this shirt

So my cool friend Jerry Bennett has a chance for one of his designs to become a licensed Marvel t-shirt!

Jerry’s the Regional Illustrator Coordinator for the Oklahoma SCBWI, and he’s pretty awesome besides.

This is the art that’s up for consideration:

hang on

Nice, right?

For those of you not in the know about comics, this shirt brings together two Marvel superheroes, Rocket Raccoon and Groot. You might, like me, look at this design and see only one character at first. But, aha, Rocket is actually clinging to Groot’s manly wooden chest, which is cleverly disguised within the shirt itself! So…when you wear this design, you’re not only showing your love for Groot, you’re also cosplaying him. Double prizes.

This is Jerry. He really wants you to vote for his design. Why would you say no to Jerry? Don’t say no to Jerry.

This contest is being hosted by We Love Fine, and you have to sign up to vote, but it’s not a big thing. Super-easy. Plus, I signed up a long time ago, and I don’t remember getting spammed by them or anything since then.

Jerry’s art tumblr has a few more details and the link, or you can just go directly to the contest here. Make sure the artwork I posted above, with Rocket on Groot’s chest, is the one displayed at the top when you get to the contest. If it’s not, you can just scroll down and find it. After you click on Jerry’s artwork preview, it should bring it up on the top of the page. Scroll back up and click on FIVE so we can make this thing happen!

Contest is open until October 21, so get over there and help make this cool shirt a reality!