SCBWI WI Fall 2016 Conference

Green Lake, Wisconsin

Last weekend I was at the fall conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Wisconsin Chapter, held in beautiful Green Lake, Wisconsin. It was an absolutely gorgeous weekend. My picture doesn’t do justice to the vibrant fall colors and clear blue skies. The weather was amazing: sunny days that were cool and fresh without being cold. Wisconsin at its best!

The Roger Williams Inn

I stayed at the historic Roger Williams Inn and ate at the Kraft Center. Between the two buildings is this delightful sculpture of children playing. A perfect piece of art for a group of children’s book writers and illustrators!

Sculpture of children playing

The faculty for the program were amazing and included nationally recognized editors, agents, authors and illustrators.

Varian Johnson and me

Author Varian Johnson critiqued the first ten pages of The Stepsisters, and had some helpful advice about my prologue. Johnson is the author of The Great Greene Heist middle grade series. (Purchased, signed and now in my TBR pile.)

OK, I know you all are wondering about my costume. I was going to be Mary Poppins and had cobbled together some pieces from the UWSP costume shop. However, the skirt and jacket were uncomfortable, the hat too small, and my umbrella recognizably modern. When a pre-conference email encouraged people to bring masks (MASKS!) and explained that we would have the chance to make masks (MAKE MASKS!) at the conference, I eagerly returned the costume. . .

having forgot that I wear glasses. Glasses and masks don’t work well together. Of course, necessity is the mother of invention (as someone once said.) So, I invented a comfortable, glasses-friendly mask. But what character from children’s literature was I? Sadly, I was without an identity– until a writer suggested that I could be the clock from The Invention of Hugo Cabret. So, here I am, the clock from Hugo Cabret:

                The clock from The Invention of Hugo Cabret

It was a fun weekend, and now I am inspired and with a clear plan of attack for improving my manuscript. Just in time for NaNoWriMo!

A Bad Navigator

I’ve always loved maps. I’m good at reading maps. If you give me a standardized test that has map questions, I’ll get them all right. No problem.

I love studying maps. Fictional maps, real maps. Where I want to go. Where I’ve been. My husband loves maps too. We have maps all over our bedroom walls of the places we’ve been.

But give me a map while I’m going somewhere, and ask me questions, and I’ll get all messed up. Often, I mess up east and west. I’ve always thought this was because I’m a slow thinker (like molasses). I’m especially slow when under-pressure. Recently, on a trip to Minneapolis, I discovered that my real problem is something a little different.

I read too much.

I read more than 100 books a year. I probably read more than two or three hours every day. My eyes are used to traveling left to right. Moving through a page in a certain direction. The past, where I was, what just happened, is on the left. I’m moving toward the right. What is going to happen is on the right side of the page.
Maps only work this way if you are traveling from west to east. If you are traveling from east to west, you are “moving” across the map opposite of the way you read a book.

If I look at a map and I’m not in that place, I totally get the map. No confusion at all.

If I look at a map and I’m in that place or moving through that place, my brain wants the left side of the paper to be where I was and the right side of the paper to be where I’m going.

I only just figured this out. I haven’t tried to navigate anywhere since discovering this about myself. Perhaps I will become a better navigator now that I can fight my brain’s impulse to put myself on a map the way I put myself in a book. Perhaps not.

I’m curious if anyone else has this problem. You avid readers out there. Does this ring true for you?

My Little Free Library

The first Little Free Library was started in 2009 in Wisconsin.  Since that time, more than 15,000 Little Free Libraries have been built.

I am happy to announce that my family has built a Little Free Library:


Our little library is near the end of our driveway (so the snow plow doesn’t knock it over in the winter).  Books are available to anyone who walks by and wants to borrow one.  The Little Free Library works on the honor system.  Readers can borrow and return a book, or swap books.

People ask: Aren’t you worried that someone will steal the books?  The answer is: a free book cannot be stolen!

My little free library is filled with books for both children and adults representing a variety of genres.  My friend Sally helped paint the library and suggested the text above the door.


If you are ever in my neighborhood, stop by and borrow a book! To learn more about Little Free Libraries, visit the official website.

Author Interview: Wayne Croning

Today I’m welcoming Wayne Croning to my series of author interviews. Wayne is the author of Karachi Backwaters: my love affair with boats and other adventures, the true story of a boy growing up in Pakistan in the second half of the twentieth century.

Elizabeth: Welcome, Wayne.

Wayne: Thanks, Elizabeth. Honoured to be here.

croning bookElizabeth: Karachi Backwater is the nonfiction account of your own life, part memoir, part coming-of-age story, part travelogue. Can you give us a short summary of your story?

Wayne: You summarized it well. It is a coming of age story; of childhood adventure, friendships and a love for boats and boat building. It is a story about growing up in the 70’s , of a simpler time, when kids had to be more inventive to keep themselves entertained. It is a glimpse into what life was like in the golden years of Karachi. A simple time, an innocent age.

Elizabeth: You are now a resident of Canada. How did that move come about?

Wayne: I moved to Canada in the summer of 1992. Most of my family already lived in Canada. I wanted to hopefully start a new and better life here. The typical immigrant’s dream.

Elizabeth: How long have you been writing?

Wayne: I have been writing on and off for about seven years and have written several short (unpublished) stories.

Elizabeth: What made you write this book?

Wayne:  My two children Marjorie and Aaron will never know what life was like in that age and that city. I wanted to preserve those memories especially for them, which is the main reason for writing this book. Also the book is dedicated to my (late) best friend David who shared in most of the adventures.

Elizabeth: Although the story is about your own life, did it require research to get the geography and time line correct?

Wayne: Memory, memory, memory. As I wrote, the memories came flooding back. Music and old photographs helped in the process. Geography and time line are all imprinted in my brain. It was all too important to get this down on paper, before I too start to lose my memory.

Elizabeth: What is your writing process or schedule?

Wayne: I wish I had a fixed schedule. Unfortunately, I work full time, rotating shifts, and it is very hard to set down a regular time to write. I try and write on my days off and luckily have a week off every month, so this helps. I like to look at old family photographs and somehow carve a story out of them.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us what you are working on now?

Wayne: I am currently writing several short stories; one is a collection of ghost stories passed down from my grandpa; another is a true story of a Jewish girl who escaped a death camp in Europe and somehow escaped with another couple and ended up in Karachi during the Second World War; yet another, is my account of a family trip to India about seven years ago.

Elizabeth We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?

Wayne: Tea for sure.

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Wayne: Ocean. I love the ocean.

Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?

Wayne: Hiking

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Wayne: Piano. Even though I play neither.

Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?

Wayne: Mystery.

Elizabeth: Hester Prynne or Scarlet O’Hara?

Wayne: Scarlet O`Hara.

Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?

Wayne: Can I say yes to both? Okay, Love scene.

Karachi Backwaters can be bought on Wayne’s personal website,

or through McNallyRobinson Booksellers in Winnipeg

or at

Thanks to Wayne for joining me today.

Camping and Conferencing

How does one save money when attending a conference and bring the family along for a vacation?  Tent camping, of course.

Last week, I attended the Historical Novels Society 2013 conference in St. Petersburg, Florida.  My family tagged along so we could turn the trip into a vacation.

Day 1: We left on a Wednesday, drove about 12 hours, and camped at Lake Barkley State Resort Park in Kentucky.  This is a beautiful park and was practically empty.  We arrived just before sunset and took a short hike to the lake.  The beach was clean and pretty, we couldn’t understand why nobody was there.   Tom figured it out.

kentucky beach   kentucky sign




Day 2: Drove for about 15 hours and arrived in St. Petersburg about 10:00pm, so had to set up our tents in the dark.  We stayed at the St. Petersburg/Madeira Beach KOA and had a beautiful tent site–right on the water, in a quiet park of the campground.  This was a well-run, quiet campground–probably much busier in the winter. In the heat of June, there were not many other campers. Here’s our tent site:

tents far

After setting up camp, I couldn’t help but imagine an alligator climbing up out of the water and coming at our tents.  Here’s a close up. The water is just beyond the line of bushes.

tents close

I spent a sleepless night, jumping every time there was a splash in the water, wondering if alligators were noctural or diurnal and comforting myself with the thought that alligators probably lived in fresh water and the lagoon by us was salt water. Right? I’m happy to report that we did not see a single alligator on our trip.

Day 3: After a camp breakfast, we got on our swimsuits and drove the 5 minutes to Madeira Beach. June is a good time to visit the beach in Florida, as the heat makes it necessary to get in the water and tourists are not in attendance.  Here is what the beach looked like at 10am on a Friday morning:


That night, the conference began.  It was held in the beautiful Vinoy Renaissance Hotel.


I got to meet up with the Great Lakes Chapter of the HNS and to listen to Anne Perry speak at the dinner banquet.

My family went to visit Fort DeSoto. They found the fort interesting, but the heat was disabling and distracting.  They finished the day with a meal at Pepe’s Cuban Cafe, which they called the best meal they’d ever had.

Exhausted, I fell asleep immediately, despite sleeping on the ground, possibly within striking distance of an alligator.

Day 4: All day at the conference for me.  I volunteered at the agent/editor pitches, went to some fun workshops and did a book signing in the afternoon.  Here I am with fellow authors Tinney Heath and Julie Caton at the book signing.

book signing

My family picked up a cousin and headed to Busch Gardens, where they rode roller coasters, got sunburned, and drank 2 gallons of water each.

Day 5: Last day of the conference. I went to Susanna Kearsley’s workshop on Bringing Characters to Life through Genealogy. It was exciting to get to listen to one of my favorite authors.  Kearsley used the family tree of character/real person John Moray (The Winter Sea) to show how an author can better understand the relationships between historical people and make realistic families for fictional characters. Fascinating! I learned a lot.

My boys went to the beach one last time, then we packed up camp and drove to Orlando to see my cousin and her family and to sleep in beds!

Day 6: Disney!


My boys had never been and I hadn’t been since I was about ten.  Hot day, but endurable as many of the rides at Disney have lines in air conditioning.  My cousin’s daughter helped guide us. I was worried my boys, ages 13 and 17, would be too old for Disney, but we all had a good time. Space Mountain was the most popular ride for us. We finished with a late dinner at Tijuana Flats. Yum.

Day 7: Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure.

DSCF2626   DSCF2635




My boys liked this park better than Disney or Busch Gardens.  It gets my vote too, as the Harry Potter ride is quite possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever done.  Highly recommended. Also, the butterbeer is a must drink. My cousin and her daughter both came with us, and they were a lot of help maneuvering through the park.  Single rider lines are the way to go, even if you are in a group.  You get through the rides much more quickly and don’t get separated too much.

At both Disney and Universal Studios, we rode rides with Brazilian teenagers sporting colorful Kontik shirts. We learned eventually that Kontik is a travel company and that their group consisted of 700 Brazilian (rhymes with a million) teenagers.

Day 8: We got up early to drive the 18 hours to Bloomington, Indiana, arriving a little after midnight. Tom read The Fault in Our Stars in its entirety. Craig continued with the Song of Ice and Fire series, and I read most of Gillian Bagwell’s The Darling Strumpet.  Andy was a driving machine.

Day 9: Stayed with the my sister and her family. My brothers and their kids came to visit too.  Great to see everyone, talk, eat, ride horses and play with chickens.

horse       chickens




Day 10: An 8.5 hour drive never seemed so short.  We got home in time to  pick up our dog from the kennel.

Great vacation. Great to be home.