Revision is a Bitch

Revision is a bitch, with a capital B!

I once wrote a post about the differences between revising and editing a manuscript at (

Those actions require two different skill sets and produce two different levels of pain.

Revision means changing scenes, moving action around, adding, subtracting, modifying. Change pieces from act 1 to act 2, or act 3 to act 1 and make sure the inner and outer journeys both align with the new story. Reset turning points, possibly even changing motivation and the moment of epiphany.


I have spent the last three weeks revising COURAGE, my middle grade manuscript that required almost a year to originally craft.  Three weeks to change almost everything except the main character’s name.

My editor at Harper Collins is the sweetest, most patient person imaginable. Smart too, because most of what she suggested ended up as spot on improvements to a story I considered complete and immutable when I first typed “The End.”

The last three weeks were literal “nose to the grindstone” days as I revamped things starting from page one. I lived, ate, breathed the story. I have to be one of the few women in the country that has yet to see Wonder Woman (that changes tomorrow) because I barely came up for air. (I did take an hour for a massage last week, I needed that more than I needed air.) I seriously don’t know how people do this with hundred thousand word missives.  Mine is sixty-eight thousand words and almost two hundred fifty pages. I nearly went insane.

This is actually my second run at revising Courage.  I first tackled it in March. Unfortunately, I also had some severe life issues during that month. Really unimaginable, and while no one died, in some ways things felt worse than death. I’m not a person who shares every part of my private life and tribulations on social media, so I have not and will not go into detail. But I did speak to my doctor and he prescribed an anti-depressant which I took. People who know me would understand exactly how bad things had to be for me to go there.

Anyway, I tried to soldier on through the revisions. I actually got something done and sent a new version back to my editor by the deadline. Now this is why I say she is both sweet and patient because she never told me how bad that version was. She even tried to find something nice to say about the crap. I found out it was crap after the medication took hold and I went back to look over the material I sent her.

Dear God in heaven, I had never read anything so poorly crafted in my entire life, and that includes my first drafts which no one ever sees except me. I could not belief what I had written, and that I had actually sent if out for someone else to read. I’m surprised she didn’t send the thing to the wastebasket and demand her advance back.

I wrote this nicest woman on Earth an apology for having made her wade through that version. Fortunately, she already knew some details of the family issues I had to deal with at the same time I was trying to work on revisions. I may not post my personal issues to the world, but I do tell people who need to know. And she understood.

So now I have turned in the second revision, after being in a situation where I could dedicate myself and my sound mind to the effort. Two new characters, a change in motivation for one of the exiting characters, several new scenes and an entire new ending, along with the deletion of almost ten thousand words. The version I sent back after my March catastrophe had grown, I think in my depression I was adding things in but never taking anything out, even if the material was contradictory.

Anyway, it’s over, for now. After sending it back last night to meet my deadline, I perused selected scenes this morning. So far, it looks good and not the mess I had to cry over before.

I don’t know if there will be more before we get to editing. In the meantime, Wonder Woman. Tomorrow.

Posted in A writer's life | Comments Off on Revision is a Bitch

The Gift of #Ownvoices

I gave myself an extra special holiday gift this year.

Was it expensive? Absolutely.
Was it worth it?    Again, a resounding yes.
Will I do it again? Read further and see the answer.

What was this present – well, a little background first. As a professional author with a host of short stories and three books behind me, along with two more in progress including my middle grade debut novel Courage coming in winter 2018 from Harper Collins, I attend various conferences. Some are better than others, more boring or more informative, and may be geared toward readers or writers. No matter what, there remains one constant – most suffer from monochrome syndrome, the audience and speakers are largely white. Yes, the speakers are deserving and qualified, But I, like many of the young readers I write for, sometimes need a mirror up on the stage expounding wisdom, and in the seats around me. Someone we can look at and see hope for a future for ourselves.

I belong to the Illinois chapter of SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. They hold a one-day conference every November called Prairie Writers and Illustrators Day (PWID) – Illinois is the prairie state, get it?

The conference theme was “Calling All Superheroes.” The event
included portfolio reviews for illustrators, critiques and contests (no, I did not win, darnit!) One of the best things for me was that this year, the conference organizers found a diverse cast for their faculty.


Agent: Linda Pratt, WERNICK & PRATT Executive Editor: Traci Todd, ABRAMS APPLESEED, Executive Art Director: Giuseppe Castellano, PENGUIN GROUP USA Executive Editor: Kendra Levin, VIKING CHILDREN’S GROUP Assistant Editor: Nikki Garcia, LITTLE BROWN & COMPANY


Linda Pratt, Kendra Levin and Nikki Garcia discussing issues in YA and MG publishing. In addition Linda Pratt gave a presentation on the elusive thing called Voice, Kendra Levin’s presentation helped attendees through exercises in character motivation, and Nikki Garcia helped us understand revising and editing MG and YA stories.

pwid-4The opening keynote speaker was Don Tate, a man who calls himself a “visual storyteller.” He discussed his long and winding journey traversing the children’s book publishing minefield, emphasizing the many twists and turns, and the length, of the journey while giving hope to those on their way. Mr. Tate will be one of the headliners at the 2017 Virginia Hamilton Conference on Multicultural literature, spoke about his dedication to his craft. BTW, I spoke at the Virginia Hamilton Conference a few years ago. If anyone wants to go deep into diverse literature, and see a truly massive children’s library, that’s the conference to attend.

I want to give the PWID 2016 organizers kudos for noting the few attendees of color they have most years and resolving to look at possible ways to change things in the future. Maybe future attendees won’t look around and feel lost or out of place when they only see the same old same old in all directions:





Which brings me to the present I gave myself.  Writing and illustrating are largely solitary endeavors. Yet, we all gain dividends from having a community like SCBWI, RWA or MWA, to be part of, to learn from and gain support.

Many #ownvoices have little chance to become part of that larger
community. They feel isolated. Worse, many don’t even know those writing communities exist. While they too have a largely monochrome membership, people all over the world tell stories, from every race, ethnicity and religion. But #ownvoices can’t join if they don’t even know these groups exist, and if they don’t have the finances to join because there are hefty membership fees and even more money is needed to sign up for and attend meetings and conferences.

I wanted to see a few new faces that did more to reflect me. I resolved to do more than wish, and gave myself the gift of additional mirrors in the audience around me. My writing career has been moderately successful. I chose to use that to  extend a helping hand to other #ownvoices.


Khannie Dastgah, Urania Smith, B A Binns, Jill Kuanfung, Nabeeh Bilal

Aided by fellow SCBWI member Urania Smith, I set up a scholarship to pay the PWID conference fees so that three additional #ownvoices could attend their first professional
writers and illustrators conference. After a contest run earlier this year, we selected scholarship winners, Khannie Dastgah, Jill Kuanfung, and Nabeeh Bilal. They were all heartily welcomed by other attendees, even the ones who at first mistook Nabeeh for Don Tate.

It’s worth noting that almost none of the people who entered the contest did knew anything about SCBWI. Something for the organization to consider: if your current membership is largely white, and many have little interchange with any people of color, much less the subset that are authors and illustrators, those people have no way of knowing you exists.  That ignorance is costly, since the Predators in the business always manage to find those who are hopeful, talented, persistent, and dedicated to their craft…and alone. One of the contestants was on the verge of falling victim to a $20K vanity publisher trap because she had no idea of any alternative to getting her children’s books published.

P. S. My final reward was a copy of a book written by one of my scholarship winners, Nabeeh Bilal illustrator of  the Callaloo books.



An autographed copy!

So my gift to myself was to help others. It’s like the starfish parable, I’ve tried to make a difference to one other individual (okay three) with the hope act that will influence their lives for the better and they will keep giving it forward. That makes the answer to the question at the beginning of this blog – would I do something similar in the future, easy.

As long as my finances hold, the answer is YES, I will select a new winner next year!  I have a new YA coming out next year, and the MG set for release in winter 2018 by Harper Collins. My current books and short stories continue to sell and I teach an online class in writing diverse characters, so I have hopes of being able to sponsor another group next year. In the meantime,  if you know of any #ownvoices  out there, whether they write for children or adults, have them contact me to let me know.  If you happen to be an #ownvoice yourself, ditto.

Posted in #weneeddiversebooks, Conference, diversity, ownvoices, PWID 2016 | Comments Off on The Gift of #Ownvoices

Policies On Diversity Are Only The Beginning

Some thing require more than just a diversity policy.

An organizational policy on diversity is a lot like a school policy against bullying. It may make the people on top, school boards, administrators, teachers and counselors, feel good. It certainly gives them something to point to when parents or the news media come by with questions. But ask the kids how that policy really works, and you get the real truth. Bullies barely notice, and when they do, they don’t care.

I belong to several professional organizations I want to talk about, RWA ( Romance Writers of America), ALA (American Library Association), and SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). The good news is, all have looked around and noticed the overwhelmingly pale skinned, cis-gendered, middle-class, and non-disabled nature of their memberships. They are both putting together statements and policies.

RWA admits that their members from marginalized groups experience a different RWA than do those from the majority. They created a Diversity Ad Hoc committee as outlined in this blog post: RWA Reaffirms Its Dedication To Diversity Elements .

The report the committee made to the RWA board in Nov 2015 notes that the issues involved are huge. Both current and former RWA members from marginalized groups have experienced both overt and covert hostility from members who are in the majority group. Policy does not alter that. Nor does it change publishers who are not excited about diversity. Suggestions include education efforts for publishers and members, along with solicitation of feedback from individuals who have chosen to leave the organization or who decided against joining. The committee’s efforts are on-going and I look forward to learning more about what they are doing and what future steps they wills suggest.

The ALA policy manual state that: Libraries can and should play a crucial role in empowering diverse populations for full participation in a democratic society. ALA has a long-standing interest, including several special interest groups and affiliate organizations such as REFORMA and BCALA, and an Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion that includes efforts to empower diverse voices.

SCBWI has partnered with WNDB and built a discussion board on diversity. My local chapter, SCBWI-Illinois, has set up a diversity committee to study. (I’m sure other chapters have done things as well, I’m just not aware of them, I don’t know how much communication there is between chapters, just that it doesn’t get down to my level). And that’s part of what’s wrong for me, the individual member who is also part of a diverse group who has in fact felt some of the both overt and covert hostility from other members. I’d love to see SCBWI and other writers organizations recognize the need to actively pursue and cultivate “own voices,” rather than just opening the doors and wondering why no one enters.

These organization are predominantly composed of white, middle class females. That’s not because people of color don’t write. Poor people, those whose religions are outside the “mainstream” an LGBTQ+ individuals also write stories for children. But relatively few of these marginalized authors and illustrators even know about many professional writing organizations. The policies and good intentions may circulate within membership, but there is still little outreach to those who have been left outside closed doors for so long many don’t know those doors exist, much less have any idea how to enter them.

I judged a contest for children’s books earlier this year. About 15% of the books submitted to the judges had diverse main characters. They provided a fascinating set of windows and mirrors into historical figures that spanned the globe as well as LGBT figures. However, not one of the other judges found anything worthwhile in any of those books and would not give them a second glance. Listening to them was like hearing publishers explain how they “just can’t get into the character,” when they reject a diverse manuscript. Not one made their lists of finalists or had any chance at recognition. The spoke so poorly about the subject matter (including accusing one of glorifying single parents) that I almost felt the contest should just tell publishers if their book had anything outside mainstream white characters, they might as well not send it in because it would never have a chance.

Recently I had an email chat with a publisher who spoke proudly about her companies devotion to embracing diversity. I asked her to expand on what that meant. They have had many meetings on the issue, she told me and I could almost feel her pride.

I asked about the results of these meetings, and that ended everything. There was nothing she could tell me, that information was a company secret. She couldn’t numbers, goals, or any comment about their pursuit of “Own Voices.” But they were definitely committed to diversity and talking about it a lot and I should just trust them, okay?

Just like the zero-tolerance policies on bullying that leave kids scared to go to school and injured by bullies, sometimes right in front of teachers. I hope our organizations decide to go further. Do actual outreach to those who have been outsiders while at the same time educating current members on the need to be welcoming, and calling out the instances of covert hostilities. Recognize that we truly do not live in a post-racial society. That people with disabilities are still mocked or considered a hindrance, that writers and illustrators from different socioeconomic groups may need an extra leg-up instead of the snide put down, and that people from different religions or ethnic groups have interesting, and universal, stories to share. That #ownvoices can do something extra; they have the ability to provide windows and mirrors to their fellow literary professionals by there very presence in a group.  Young readers are not the only ones who need windows and mirrors.

I am a joiner. I want to see myself as a welcome participant in my groups, and I do not enjoy being shoved in the shadows. To that end I have also joined some smaller groups. First, The Chicago Writer’s Association which I have since learned has chosen to ignore the diversity (or lack thereof) among members. I am left feeling a total outsider and I’m unlikely to be renewing with that group. The other group, the Association of Children’s Authors and Illustrators of Color, is just getting started. I am one of the moderators of this Facebook group, and I hope that in the future we will grow and assist each other in the perilous world of publishing children’s books.

Posted in ALA, diversity, RWA, SCBWI | Comments Off on Policies On Diversity Are Only The Beginning

PWID 2016 Scholarship winner – Nabeeh Bilal

Nabeeh_Bilal-photo You never know how the things you experience today can prepare you for an opportunity tomorrow. Likewise, you also never know how a person you met yesterday can influence your five year outlook. Let’s just say life is a puzzle and it’s up to notice the pieces and put them together.

I vividly remember the day I was finally accepted — after initially being rejected — into the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Duke was, and still is, a vibrant arts magnate high school in the Georgetown area of Washington, DC. The school had visual artists, dancers, actors, musicians, singers, writers, and everything in-between. Duke was truly a different world, the kind of place you go to if you want to embark on a journey into the arts, a place that bleeds talent and cultivates success.

Coming out of the 8th grade, I really had no idea what or who I wanted to be when I grew up, but somehow I saw Duke as an essential piece to my puzzle. The fact that my sister had been accepted a year earlier gave me confidence that I’d somehow be a shoe-in.

Unfortunately, I broke my drawing hand a week before my audition which meant that I went into my audition having to draw with my left hand. Add that to the fact that I wasn’t very focused on academics at the time, and you may understand why I received a big fat rejection letter from the school. Needless to say, I was crushed. How could I ever piece together my life’s puzzle without the center piece?

I knew that had enough grit to survive in an environment like Duke, I just needed a shot. Luckily for me I had a father who was very determined to help his children achieve success. Somehow, my dad got me accepted into Duke on a probationary status. It meant that I had to attend summer school prior to the start of 9th grade, but most importantly, it meant that I could take the next great step in my life toward and eventually make a success of myself. The center piece of my puzzle was intact.

Fast forward 16 years later and I’d have to say that Duke was an essential experience for me. The people I met there inspired me to do better and be better. In fact, the people I met at Duke are the reason why I’m even in a position to attend the PWID.

Three years ago, I saw a play called “Callaloo: A Jazz Folktale”. The play was about a greedy young boy named Winston who eats all of his aunt’s Callaloo and is magically transported to the island of Tobago to learn a lesson. Months after seeing the play, I was inspired to approach the playwright to find out if she had bigger plans for her play. It just so happened that the playwright, Marjuan Canady, and I attended and graduated from Duke Ellington together (class of ’04).

I gained a lot of experience animating, designing, and illustrating for people in the years prior to seeing that play, but I now wanted to do something for myself, I wanted to do something that would have a lasting impact; something that would make me happy. Callaloo felt like the next piece to my puzzle, yet, a puzzle within itself.

Initially, I approached Marjuan about doing an animation of Callaloo, but animation is very tedious and time-consuming — especially if you’re the only one doing it — so we opted to start with a book. When we began our partnership, neither of us had ever written or illustrated a book of any kind before, but After nine months of drafts and revisions, countless sketches, character revisions, and skype meetings, we self-published “Callaloo: A Jazz Folktale” in January 2014.

Since publishing our first book, Callaloo ( has taken on a life of its own. It features a book series, unique characters, a web series, live performance, and an arts educational program. I love to illustrate, but I love being involved in the entire creative process of building things even more.

My partner referred me to the PWID conference and its scholarship, and honestly, I did not think I would be awarded the scholarship to attend because there are so many people more talented and just as deserving as I am, but I’m fortunate that this came together. I don’t know what to expect, but I’m excited to be at the 2016 PWID because I know it will be a great experience to connect with so many other talented and ambitious people doing the same things I’m doing and trying to figure out how best to connect the pieces of their own puzzles. You never know how the things you experience today can prepare you for an opportunity tomorrow.

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PWID 2016 Diversity Scholarship Winner Khannie Dastgah

khannieAs I sit here thinking about how I am going to explain what this opportunity means to me, I get flooded with emotions and I feel my heart start beating a little faster. I have always believed that I have to trust my instincts and intuition, and that things will work out the way they should in the end.

I am well versed on the seasons of life and do believe that there is a ying/yang-good periods/difficult periods that is a part of everyone’s story and journey. The past couple months of my life have been one of my most challenging periods. Extreme highs and lows, with major life-changing occurrences. It makes you wonder why is it that with the good there always seems to have to be the “payback” bad hard times? I always remind myself to focus back on the positives, and I know that I am blessed and lucky to have such a wonderful life.

A friend sent me the information about this conference and scholarship opportunity and I jumped on the chance to apply. I had never heard about this event but it immediately sparked my interest when I learned that illustrators, publishers, and even agents would be in attendance. I was leaving town for a week and the deadline for the scholarship was coming up, but I told myself that I had to find the time to apply. I kept thinking to myself that maybe this was the world’s way of telling me to take the chance and make the next step happen. I can’t afford to hire an agent to mentor me and shop my books around, so I’ve had to do everything on my own.

After 10 years and countless meetings with published authors, illustrators, potential publishers, and a failed “Kickstarter” Campaign, I came to the realization that I would have to do my books on my own. During the Campaign I was contacted by a few people and it was exciting to see that there was interest in my idea. But it’s been daunting to think of the amount of money people are telling me that I would need to pay for the illustrations alone.  That doesn’t even include the printing, marketing and distribution costs. As an employee in campus recreation and a swim coach for a wide range of ages and skill levels, I am blessed that I love my career.

However, it absolutely does suck that I have to work 4 jobs to make a salary that most people have the luxury of making with one position. I know I’m lucky because I love my job and feel like I am giving back to others every day. That being said, we still seem to live paycheck to paycheck and I look forward to the day where I don’t have to stress about how I am going to pay the bills each month, and raise more than $20,000 to finish my first 3 books.

This conference could be the day where everything changes. This is my chance to see if there is anyone in the industry interested in helping me make my book series a reality. I know it’s a long shot, but I believe so strongly that my books can make a tremendous impact on so many people’s lives that I have to try and that it IS a possibility.  And if it wasn’t for this scholarship, my friend would have never passed this information to me, and that possibility wouldn’t exist.  Things happen for a reason, and I’m excited to attend and learn as much as I can and then decide what my next step will be.

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A New Challenge – Jill Kuangfung

Not too long ago, I found myself in a well-known, independent feminist bookstore wondering where all the characters of color were. This was a while into my time working there as a bookseller, but I often thought back to the first day I stepped into this particular shop–how magical it was (especially compared to Barnes & Noble), how innovative and progressive. Eventually the magical book dust settled, and I got to know the shelves, especially in the children’s section. I became familiar with who was featured. And, although I am a fan of many of the works in the growing collection of “feminist princess books,” these young heroines were often white. I was hard-pressed to find children’s books with protagonist of color.


My name is Jill, and I am a twenty-seven-year-old, queer, mixed-race artist of color. It wasn’t until I worked at this bookstore that I found the first books to ever reflect my identity (in a racial sense), and there are still only a few. When I read these books, my soul was fed. So a couple of years ago, I decided to write one of my own for the younger versions of me, so that maybe they wouldn’t have to wait until age twenty-seven, would not have to become booksellers to experience the satisfaction of looking into the mirror of a book. The book I am writing and illustrating is my first. It is based on the story of Little Red Riding Hood, except Red has a different name and is a little mixed-race girl, and the wolf is preying on her family’s identity and history. There is no woodsman to help Red; it is she, along with her memories of her ancestors, who must save the day.

I am not a published writer, and my paintings have never hung in a gallery, but when I heard about the scholarship to attend PWID, I believed my work was important, I believed in the possibility that it might go somewhere, that I might learn something, and that someone might be reached through my art. So I took the shot. I am thrilled to be invited to the conference, I am thrilled to meet other people who write and illustrate. I am nervous and excited to hear what publishers are looking for, and ready to equip myself for the challenges and vulnerability I will face by sharing my work with the world. I have so much gratitude for this opportunity; I’m counting down the days until November!

Posted in #weneeddiversebooks, Contest, diversity, Multicultural, PWID 2016 | Comments Off on A New Challenge – Jill Kuangfung

Diverse authors/illustrators at the Illinois SCBWI conference

Fellow African American children’s author, Urania Smith, teamed with me, B A Binns, to sponsor three diverse authors to attend the 2016 Illinois SCBWI conference, Prairie Writers and Illustrators Day (PWID) coming up on Saturday, November 5 at Harper College in Palatine, Ill. Urania and I both want to see ways to see more authors from marginalized groups succeed in the children’s book industry. As always, I believe education is an important key to success, and I know many marginalized authors and illustrators have difficulty funding education efforts. That’s why I chose to seek out future #ownvoices to attend this important conference and education opportunity.

In preparation for the conference, I am letting the contest winners share their feeling about the event. First up will be Jill Kaunfung from Illinois. In her post coming up on Thursday (10-27) she will talk about her draft manuscript, Freely & the Wolf, a mixed-race retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, where a red-cloaked girl of color relies on strength from her ancestors to stand up to the white wolf who threatens to erase her history.

I already want to read that story.

Don’t forget, there’s still time to register to attend PWIDPWID_2016Registration closes on October 29, 2016.

Posted in #weneeddiversebooks, Conference, Contest, diversity, PWID 2016 | Comments Off on Diverse authors/illustrators at the Illinois SCBWI conference

Using Diverse Books in Library Programs – ILA 2016

B A Binns & Nancy Goodfellow

B A Binns & Nancy Goodfellow

The Illinois Library Association, ILA, held it’s annual conference in Rosemont, Il on October 19 and 20.  On Wednesday, Oct 19, I spoke at a session titled Using Diverse Books in Library Programs. Along with my co-presenter, Nancy Goodfellow, a member of the National Association for Down Syndrome, the talk focused on three areas:



Diversity – Moving past just being tolerant and actually embracing and celebrating the richness of each individual

Empathy – about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Our ability to empathize as a way to making the world a better place

#ownvoices – the hashtag was created in 2015 for authors and illustrators who create books with diverse characters who share their identities. This firsthand knowledge and shared experience enables ownvoices to craft stories from a unique and authentic point of view with an extra degree of nuance and authority.

Preschool thru 2nd grade.
The common narrative about kids from marginalized groups tends to focus on deficits and problems. We focused on works and speakers that serve as a counter-narrative to challenge negative assumptions and stereotypes.

With these younger children,  I suggest programs that revolve around kids playing and interacting with those different from themselves as a normal thing. We also looked at books that help expose kids in this age range identity and social justice. The more kids see ‘the other’ represented in stories, the more ‘other’ is removed from their thinking. The goal is for children to read books because they are good books, without taking notice that they are about someone who is a different color or gender or cultural background.

3rd grade through middle school
The discussion began with Booktalks and the pros and cons of focusing on the diversity factor while talking about books to program participants. I usually tell the diversity characteristic during booktalks, but as an aside, a “something you should know,” not as a defining feature. Even when I don’t mention how a character is diverse, people who know me know most of the books I discuss are going to feature characters from multiple cultures. And everything I write centers around stories of kids who are different from each other finding ways to come together.

Other programs for this age range discussed include

  • Having participants review book covers to see how their library compares to the following 2015 infographic of statistics on diversity in children’s books collected by the CCBC – Cooperative Children’ Book Council at the University of Wisconsin by reviewing some shelves and recording and discussing their results.

(Created by David Huyck under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.)

  • Having participants “cast the movie” for a book they have read, and reviewing their internal def aults about these characters.
  • Using popular books such as the Harry Potter series to introduce the topic of hurtful words, including quizzing the kids about a word in the books that is comparable to the R-word because books don’t have to be categorized as diverse to provide opportunities for discussions about diverse topics.

7th grade through adults
To compete with the wide variety of choices people of this age have for their time and energy, librarians and teachers have to offer choice. That includes the kind of reading and programming that will actively involve kids and lead them into deeper engagement with their own lives. We also have to do more to let them know what choices are available. This includes graphic novels for older students, and using programs designed to introduce students to diverse books such as Blind Date with a diverse book, Speed Dating diverse books. We also covered social justice programs that help kids see and write about ways they are alike and substituting several diverse books for classics in some programs and/or class situations such as discussions on bullying or social class.

All ages
Final discussion focused on ownvoices and independently published books such as I’m A Brilliant Little Black Boy, and Large Fears. These books help show kids that they do belong.  We also talked about the organization, Sit Stay Read, which helps train adults who want to volunteer to do programs for their schools or libraries.

Kids need the opportunity to talk about differences in a safe environment. It is especially important to be matter-of-fact about differences and have open, honest conversations about them. If you make something taboo, it will be taboo. If you make diversity part of everyday life, kids will accept it as normal and unremarkable.


Following the session I joined other Illinois authors at the Illinois Author Showcase on the exhibit floor.  A number of librarians who attended the presentation stopped by and asked additional questions.  I was also able to mentor a self-published author.


A pdf of the handout given to participants can be downloaded here

A pdf of the books discussed during the presentation can be downloaded here.

Posted in #weneeddiversebooks, Conference, Disabilities, diversity, Librarian, Multicultural, self publishing | Comments Off on Using Diverse Books in Library Programs – ILA 2016

What if you gave a contest and nobody came?

For the record, the title of this blog is meant to be a hook. Authors know what I mean, that thing good novels use to capture a reader’s attention. In reality, the contest I am going to tell you about had lots of entries. Entries that shared more than a few things in common.

Last month I announced a contest on my website, It was sponsored by my publishing company, AllTheColorsOfLove Press (aka ME) and offered free tuition to Prairie Writers and Illustrators Day, PWID. PWID is an Illinois SCBWI conference held in Palatine, Illinois on the campus of Harper College in November.  The contest goal was to find a worthy author or illustrator outside the mainstream and pay his/her tuition.

What do I mean by mainstream? In the United States at least, the vast majority of children’s book writers, illustrators, editors and reviewers are white, middle class, and female. Year after year this has been the predominant crowd at PWID and other conferences I attend, including the national conference in New York (I have never been to the Los Angeles conference, but something tells me things would not be that different there.) I’m not sure about LGBTQ+ attendees, or people of religious backgrounds outside the mainstream, I can only guess.  As a black female children’s author, I’ve had to accept being being one of three, or two, or sometimes no other black faces at writing events, along with a smattering of Hispanics and Asians. I am never sure how many other attendees notice the lack of crowd diversity, but I always do. It’s hard to miss when you are “the only one of your kind” in a standing room only crowd.

2016 marked a change for PWID. A portion of the  faculty includes individuals outside the mainstream. After I saw the lineup I had to take a few minutes to pick my beating heart up from the floor. Kids are not the only students who need mirrors.

I then came to a decision. I wanted more. A diverse faculty should be accompanied by a more diverse audience. With that thought came the decision for concrete action along with the realization that I should be willing to put my money where my mouth was. So my contest was born.

I launched the scholarship, full tuition for a diverse attendee. Entry was simple, people had to write a few paragraphs about why they needed to attend, what they thought the benefit would be to their career. And they needed to explain what made them diverse in their own words.

That second requirement actually caused one problem. I had one white author try to explain that the definition of diversity was “fluid” and that she should be included because of the characters she wrote. I had to disqualify her and tell her sorry, but I was really looking for #ownvoices, diverse authors or illustrators who write these characters from a position of knowledge.

Contrary to the title, people came. I had entries from all over the US. Literally, from Washington, D C to Hawaii. Most described themselves as people of color, mixed race, and LGBT.  More importantly, another author of color and SCBWI member, Urania Smith, gets a special shout out. She offered to join me and pay for the tuition of a second candidate.  In the end, I could not chose only two. So I opened my purse a little wider and funded two attended, and Urania a third.

My career has been good, even if  SCBWI only recognizes one of my books as being PAL-worthy.  Per the official SCBWI website – P.A.L. stands for “Published and Listed.” This level of membership is open to those whose “books, articles, poems, stories, illustrations, photographs, films, television or electronic media for children have been commercially published by one of the organizations listed in the SCBWI Market Surveys.”

In other words, traditional publishing serves as the gatekeeper for entry into PAL. But that’s another story about the difficulty minority authors and illustrators have in finding a home with one of those favored publishers and how that effects their status in the organization.

Or maybe it’s really part of the same story.

Almost none of the people who entered were members of SCBWI. In fact, most were not aware that the organization even existed. While I heard about it years ago, and even joined (I am a natural joiner) I know many writers of color do not know and cannot afford to join even if they do know. And, as a member, I know there are times when I question my place in the group as a minority author. Like many others, I write stories that kids of color buy and love. But those books are unable to rouse much interest among major publishers and are shut out of some of the organizations benefits.

Brief disclaimer, my first YA novel, Pull, is a recognized PAL book, having been published by Westside Books, a small press. In addition, I recently sold a MG novel, Courage, that will be published by Harper Collins in 2018. But there are many years between them, years where even with an agent I could not get a publisher interested in my stories featuring black and gay teens. Two of those went on to become successful self-published books. So I have seen both sides of the story. My two self-published books that children of color benefit from, were stories that publishers said they could not relate to the characters. So they are forever neligible for the benefits of PAL status. They get no promotion or even mention in displays at events Illinois SCBWI  attends at school and library associations because they, like some other #ownvoices books, have difficulty getting past the publishing house gatekeepers.

Many authors from marginalized groups are electing to go the independent publishing route in an effort to get their books into kid’s hands. I did that with two books, Minority of One about a gay black youth and Being God whose hero was not only the villain of Pull in search of redemption, but a boy trying to fight the pull of a gang.  I talk about them last year at the Illinois School Library Media Association and the Ohio Educational Library Media Association, and will do so again when I speak to the Illinois Library Association in October. But those have been my solo efforts. SCBWI has never deemed them worthy of even being included in their display at any of these meetings.

This year there will be three new faces at PWID.  I hope to have them speak more about themselves in the next few weeks. Presenting my contest winners:

Jill Jill Kaunfung from Illinois –

Jill describes herself as a mixed-race, queer girl of color. She has drafted a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, where a red-cloaked girl of color relies on strength from her ancestors to stand up to the white wolf.


khannieKhannie Dastgah from Missouri –

Khannie immigrated from Iran in 1979 at the age of four. Her books were created to help diverse groups feel connected to swimming. She wants every kid to be able to connect and relate to at least one of the characters in her books.

Nabeeh_Bilal-photoPicture book author and puppeteer, Nabeeh Bilal from DC –

Nabeeh has a self-published series. He stated the hope that being in a “roomful of people who excel at what I aspire to do” would help inspire him to create his best book yet.

In the past he has felt excluded from society as African-American man trying to find a place at “the table.”  One line in his entry form that helped tip the balance in his favor: Diversity is not only about race, but about religion, about autism acceptance, about the right to be who you want to be.

All three will be heading for palatine, Illinois on November 5 for the PWID conference. Their tuition is paid for. Anyone interested can sign up, registration is open and you do not have to be an SCBWI member.  But if you are interested, move fast. Some of the breakout sessions are already full. For more information, and to register, click here

Lots of good people entered my contest. Urania Smith and I were both pleased. My now empty wallet and I hope the conference will be enriched by their presence just as they are enriched by the information they receive and their future careers jump started.  If we really want more diversity in children’s books then we need to do outreach to the many talented #ownvoices who feel shut out.  Just unlocking the doors is not enough. Too many have felt unwanted for their entire careers, and still lack the financial wherewithal to both find out about opportunities and to join. That leaves publishers free to say they can’t find these authors. And that perpetuates the cycle of exclusion.

P. S. Even authors and illustrators who were not selected were provided with information about SCBWI, especially their own state chapters. I hope they feel they got a benefit from applying, even if the answer could not be yes to all.

Posted in A writer's life, Conference, Contest, diversity, PWID 2016 | Comments Off on What if you gave a contest and nobody came?

2016 Prairie Writers results


Presenting the winners of my contest to provide free tuition for diverse children’s authors and illustrators to attend Illinois SCBWI’s 2016 conference – Prairie Writers and Illustrators Day – PWID
Contest Results…
PWID 2016 Faculty…PWID 2016 Faculty…
The three winners who will be my guests at the conference are:

Jill Kaunfung –




Nabeeh Bilal –






Khannie Dastgah, St. Louis, Missouri –


For 2016, the Illinois SCBWI conference committee selected a stellar faculty. details about faculty members can be found at




Posted in Conference, Contest, PWID 2016 | Comments Off on 2016 Prairie Writers results