Tag Archives: Kathi Appelt


LoonSong facilityThe autumn air, the stillness of the water, the cry of the loon. If you long for time away from your daily grind, for days nestled in a quiet spot with beautiful views and inspirational people, a time to write and think, dream and learn, come join us at LoonSong!

Be part of our inaugural retreat for children’s authors who are serious about their writing. Come listen to award-winning writers talk about their process; hear what’s happening in the children’s book market and network with people who can help you grow your career; join in discussions about craft and business; participate in informal critique groups; take time for yourself and your writing. All among the towering pines and graceful birches along the shores of Elbow Lake.

This retreat is for you! A rich smorgasbord. Select the options that meet your needs—lectures, small workshops, consultations—or retreat to your beautiful lodgings to write and dream.  Connect with an editor, an agent, marketers. Enjoy pontoon rides on the lake with your fellow writers. Gather around bonfires.

Check out the schedule and sign up today. LoonSong will give you what you need: time, expertise, and inspiration.

The place, Elbow Lake Lodge in the pristine Boundary Waters area of northern Minnesota. The nearest town is Cook. Commercial shuttle service to Duluth is available from the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport and LoonSong offers a shuttle from Duluth where you can begin to meet your fellow participants. Or you can arrive in your own car.

(I know when I’m considering travel to out-of-the-way places, before I can begin to dream I need to set aside any anxiety about getting there. We’ll take care of you!)

The faculty are writers Katherine Paterson, William Alexander, Kathi Appelt, Kekla Magoon, and me (Marion Dane Bauer).

Steve and Vicki Palmquist of Winding Oak will present on marketing and provide individual marketing consultations.

Rubin Pfeffer is our agent. (He happens to be my agent and he’s extraordinary.)  You can pitch your work to him in an individual session.

And now we can announce that we have an editor on board, Yolanda Scott, Editorial Director at Charlesbridge. As well as hearing her speak and having both Yolanda and Rubin present at readings, ten lucky folks to be chosen at random can have an individual consult with this exceptional editor. (Check the LoonSong website for details)

LoonSong is a collaboration with Vermont College of Fine Arts, so if you are interested in gathering information about the oldest and most prestigious MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults in the country, that will be available, too. All the writing faculty are connected with VCFA, Katherine on the Board of Trustees, the rest of us current or former faculty. And the retreat is designed by Debby Dahl Edwardson and Jane Buchanan, VCFA grads, and by me.

LoonSongLoonSong will be a boutique experience, intimate, nurturing, relaxing, inspiring. And there are a few spots still open.

Sign up and come join us, September 8th through the 12th, 2016. This will be the first of what we hope will be a long and rich tradition.

I would love to see you there!




LoonSongWriters need other writers. At every stage of a career.

The newbie dipping a toe into the icy water of agents and editors and contracts and marketing plans and publication.

The just-on-the-edge-of-success writer who has had one-too-many encouraging notes from editors and too few contracts in hand.

The mid-career pro who needs to step for a moment outside the isolation of the work, to create, connect, discover.

The long-time writer who simply wants to be with others who share the vision, to be renewed.

A couple of autumns ago, two Vermont College of Fine Arts alumni of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, Debby Dahl Edwardson and Jane Buchanan, and I, a retired faculty member from VCFA, gathered in Debby’s cabin on an island in a lake in northern Minnesota. We went there to dream of a retreat for writers for children and young adults, those just starting out and seeking information and encouragement and those long established and looking for a community of their peers. We knew that given a long weekend in this breathtaking wilderness we could nurture one another. And that is how LoonSong came into being.

Now the dream has come to fruition. The first LoonSong retreat will gather from September 8th through the 12th, 2016. It will have riches to offer for children’s and young-adult writers at every stage of their careers. And we will meet, not in a rustic island cabin, but in Elbow Lake Lodge, a gorgeous, lake-side resort.

Here are the outstanding faculty who have agreed to join us:

William Alexander writes science fiction and fantasy for middle grade audiences. His novels include the National Book Award-winning Goblin Secrets and the Eleanor Cameron Award-winning Ambassador.

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honor-winning, National Book Award finalist, PEN USA Literary Award-winning, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, and many, many fun and rollicking picture books.

Kekla Magoon is the author of young adult novels including The Rock and the River, for which she received the ALA Coretta Scott King New Talent Award and an NAACP Image Award nomination, and X: A Novel, which was long-listed for the National Book Award in 2015. She also writes nonfiction on historical topics, including Today the World Is Watching You: The Little Rock Nine and the Fight for School Integration, 1957 and the forthcoming PANTHERS! The History and Legacy of the Black Panther Party in America.

Oh . . . and me. I’m on the faculty, too. (You can check my credentials if you like.)

And believe it or not, Katherine Paterson, our first National Ambassador for Children’s Literature, twice Newbery Medalist, named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress, will be our keynote speaker!

Extraordinary literary agent Rubin Pfeffer will be there, and since he’s my agent, I can promise that he is truly extraordinary.

An editor, yet to be named, probably someone who works with one of the faculty so you’ll be able to see them interact, will be there, too.

Vicki and Steve Palmquist of Winding Oak, the folks who manage this web site and market all my books and do the same for many other writers for young people, will be there to teach us about marketing and to give individual consultations.

Vermont College of Fine Arts is sponsoring the conference and those who are interested will have an opportunity to learn about VCFA’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, the oldest and most prestigious program in the country. (I’d say “in the world,” because it is that, but that would sound pretentious.)

You can come to learn from masters, to connect with your peers, and/or simply to retreat and write. You create your own experience. In addition to lectures and panels and workshops, writing prompts and consultations, there will be quiet space for writing. Oh, and I mustn’t forget to mention bonfires on the beach, pontoon rides on the lake and a whole wild world out there, beckoning.

This is truly a boutique program with room for fewer than forty participants, so check it out now. I’m guessing it’s going to fill fast.

I’d love to see you there!

My Picture-Book Guru

Kathi Appelt

Kathi Appelt

Kathi Appelt, the amazing Kathi Appelt, is my picture book guru. Everyone who has ever attempted to write a picture book should have one.

I have been struggling with a 400-word picture book for months now. It was sold. I had an introduction to a new editor, a contract in hand, the first half of the advance. And then the editor and I realized that the text she had purchased was going to be too much like another picture book I had coming out with another publisher. (Don’t even ask how such a thing could come about. It’s a long story.) And I went back to the drawing board.

I started over with an altered concept, but now I wasn’t just playing with ideas to see if I could come up with something that pleased me, which is the way I usually approach a new picture book text. I had a hole to plug, a specific editor to satisfy, and a deadline.

The first round, I produced a manuscript the editor loved. Well, that’s just a bit of an exaggeration. She loved the first half. And everyone knows that half a story is no story at all. Especially when we’re talking about a picture book.

Picture book texts are fragile creations. To disassemble one and try to put it together again is a bit like dropping a crystal bowl and then attempting fix it with glue. You simply can’t get there. Or if you do get there, what you’ll end up with will probably be misshapen and conspicuously wounded.

And so I listened to what the editor wanted, and I tried. I tried and I tried and I tried. I heard what she was saying. I knew she was right. And I’d say to myself, “You can do that.” But I couldn’t. Each time I got to the end of a new draft I would tell myself . . . I think this does it. I hope this does it. Surely this does it.

But in my heart, I wasn’t going to be surprised to find myself wrong.

And I was wrong, every time.

The editor was considerate, thoughtful, careful. We talked whenever I wanted to, and she checked in with me from time to time in our discussions to make sure I was “all right.” And I was. Frustrated, but all right. But I couldn’t seem to manage the kind of piece we both wanted. Finally, we fell into a pattern where we would have a discussion, I would send a new draft and she would fall into silence. I knew what the silence meant. She had simply run out of words. If we had talked again, she could only say the same thing again. And what was the point of that?

The editor must have been every bit as frustrated as I, probably more so, because she has people looking over her shoulder at the progress of her manuscripts, and I work only for myself. But I didn’t know what to do except to wait, once more, for her to say it all again.

And then one day I thought, it’s been a long time since I’ve talked to my friend Kathi. And even though it seems foolish to bring in another perspective when it’s a single editor I have to please, I’ve taken picture book texts that were in trouble to Kathi before. She has the perfect eye for weighing what works and what doesn’t.

So I sent her Winter Dance. And she said some of the things I expected and one thing I hadn’t. And the one thing I hadn’t expected blew a hole in the tightly closed process I’d been trapped inside.

It’s interesting that Kathi’s suggestion came with an idea attached that didn’t fit, an idea I didn’t pursue. But it started me off in a different place. Instead of trying to fix the second half, I found myself with new energy to reconceive the whole. The piece found an invigorating new life, and it was a new life that managed to hang onto many of the best elements from the previous versions.

The subject line of the e-mail I sent to my editor and my agent with the manuscript attached said, “I think I’ve got it!”

And the immediate response that came back was YES!

But why couldn’t I just do it the first time around?

I’ve long told my students, “If this process were easier there would be even more people out there already filling the publishing slots. So rejoice in the difficulty of the work and don’t lose faith.”

But there is something else here besides the determined slog through complex and demanding work, something that bringing a fresh voice to my effort helped me to do. Often our most creative act is simply letting go. Letting go of what we’re sure must happen. Letting go of the words already on the page. Letting go of our own demands—and anyone else’s—for the piece.

And having the voice of a knowing friend to make that letting go feel safe helps a whole lot.

A warning, though. You’ll have to find your own picture-book guru. I have dibs on Kathi!


A Happy Christmouse to All!

Christmas Baby“We need a sweet Christmas story, and we know you can do sweet.” 

It was an editor on the phone, one I especially enjoy working with, and I found myself smiling. That the author of Killing Miss Kitty and Other Sins would be admired for her capacity to write sweet! I was charmed. So I wrote The Christmas Baby. It was sweet, and the book has been a success … probably in great part due to Richard Cowdrey’s illustrations, which are even sweeter than the text. 

However, the next time the same editor came to me, wanting something new for Christmas, I hesitated. Perhaps I had run out of sweet. Or of fresh ideas for a two-thousand-year-old topic.

Picture books are curious endeavors. Some of my picture book texts have been written from beginning to end in a couple of hours with little revision ever needed. Some I can struggle with for months before I finally lock them into place … or give up because they won’t lock. 

Recently I’ve been working on a new Christmas picture book idea called A Happy Christmouse to All! I finished it after a couple of rather intense weeks of work, and I loved it … and I realized even as I was loving it that it didn’t work. 

It wasn’t particularly sweet, but it was light and fun … and it didn’t work.

It had some marvelous lines, some great rhymes … and it didn’t work.

Picture books have to arrive somewhere. They must click into place. They must, by the end of the story, give the heart what it longs for. This one didn’t do any of those things.

I passed my Christmouse through my picture-book guru, Kathi Appelt. She liked it and told me that it didn’t work.

I showed it to my agent, Rubin Pfeffer. He praised it and said that it didn’t work.

Then he and I talked about what the story needed. I listened and agreed, but agreeing doesn’t give me a stronger concept or the new voice I need to discover before I can start over. I’m waiting for those to come. Christmas gifts, perhaps? 

In the meantime I have a great title, A Happy Christmouse to All! 

And I wish every single reader who honors me by reading this blog a Happy Christmouse, too.