The Ink Splat

August 2017: Featuring Author David Butler

The author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is David Butler.

Setting Challenge

Change the setting of your favorite story by selecting a random page in an atlas. Write the opening paragraph from this new perspective. How does the setting influence your story line and the characters?

Submit your responses by emailing and you might be published on our website!

Spotlight ON…David Butler: The Kidnap Plot

An Interview with author David Butler

1. How long have you been writing? What made you decide to become an author?

I knew I wanted to be an author when I was eight years old and my dad gave me a copy of The Lord of the Rings. What made me want to write novels, and specifically fantasy novels, was the ability to tell truths about human beings by redrawing the world in which human beings live and act.
I took some detours on the way, including going to law school and working for more than ten years as a lawyer. I decided it was time to take my chance, and for two years I wrote full time. I found and lost an agent, wrote books alone and with my wife Emily, published in the indie space, found an agent again, and finally got an offer to publish The Kidnap Plot.


2. The Kidnap Plot is book one of your series, The Extraordinary Journeys of Clockwork Charlie. Can you tell us about how you came up with the idea for your book and your series?

Well, I have to be careful here, because if I tell you all of my sources of inspiration, it will give away some secrets in the book: spoilers! But I will say that I lived outside London for five years, so some of the places described in the book are real (or mostly real). For instance, there’s a platform in a train station which is real, and where I really caught a train home after work every day for two years.


3. At Society of Young Inklings, we often talk about ways to approach the creative process playfully. Do you have favorite exercises or activities that help you stay creative?

I think it’s really important to keep putting new inputs into your head. Creativity is what we call associating two or more things together that haven’t been associated before, or associating them in a new way. To be able to creative consistently, you need to consistently put new things in your head. That means new experiences, so be willing to try new foods. It means new people, so be willing to make friends wherever you go. It means new places, so look for opportunities to travel. And above all, read books.
If you find yourself stuck, I recommend this: deliberately associate things by force until your creative juices start working again. Pick up two objects, and ask yourself what is the story that involves both these objects? Pick an existing story, and open an atlas to a random page, to ask what would this story look like if I set it in this different place?


4. Do you have any tips for how to create a fast-paced plot?

I have two tips. One, conflict creates interest, so get conflict into your story as early as you can. That doesn’t have to mean a fight, but it means two people who want different things from each other and who will each try to get what they want.
Two, write in short units. Short scenes or short chapters that each end on a question or a new decision or a discovery or a cliffhanger will create the feeling of a very fast story that drags you along with it.


5. Are there authors who influenced or inspired your writing?

Yes. The stories I read over and over when I was young were written by J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Leguin (The Wizard of Earthsea), Susan Cooper (the Dark Is Rising Sequence), Isaac Asimov (the Foundation Trilogy), Lloyd Alexander (The Chronicles of Prydain), Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time), Katherine Kurtz (the Deryni books), and Patricia McKillip (The Riddle-Master of Hed).


6. What’s your favorite thing about writing? Least favorite?

The best thing about having published books is when a stranger comes up to you and says she’s read your book and it was important to her. That makes it all worth the effort. The worst thing about having published books is reading your reviews. Even when they’re positive, I get nervous reading them. I try never to read reviews.
The best part of writing is when two things fit together in your book that you didn’t see coming so you see something new and exciting about the story you’re writing. My least favorite part is the minute right before I start writing, when I’m trying to psych myself up to put eight pages onto paper.


7. What is the most difficult part of your creative process?

I think the hard thing is arranging my schedule so that I have consistent time to write. When I am most successful, it’s because I am making myself write in airports and hotels, and on planes, and sitting at the park while my kids play. It is very easy to surrender and tell myself that I don’t have enough time.


8. If you could tell your younger writing self something, what would it be?

Write a lot. If you are a young writer, your biggest advantage is time. Write lots and lots of words, and accept that many of them will not be amazing. But keep trying to write your best, because your best will become better and better as you go, until everything you write is fantastic.

A special thanks to David Butler!

Locate your local independent book store to purchase The Kidnap Plot, it is also available at most other nationwide bookstores or online.

July 2017: Featuring Author Tracy Maurer

The author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is Tracy Maurer.

The Challenge: “Dictionary Dab”

Try a “Dictionary Dab” when you’re looking to spark new ideas for your writing. Turn to a random page in your dictionary, and take a few minutes to read a few of the entries and definitions until you find three that interest you (perhaps the words are fun to say, have unusual meanings, or they’re simply new words to know). “Dab” them into your manuscript, if you have an existing piece, or write a new paragraph (or short story) that smoothly uses the three words. They should sound like they belong in your work, which is why I say it’s a dab and not a plop!

Submit your responses by emailing and you might be published on our website!

Spotlight ON…Tracy Maurer: Noah Webster’s Fighting Words

An Interview with author Tracy Maurer

1. What drew you to writing non-fiction? Have you always been curious and into researching new things?

I love to learn! Nonfiction requires oodles of research, so I’m always learning new things. But I did NOT like nonfiction when I was a kid — so much of it was dull. So, when I write nonfiction now, I challenge myself to write what I wish I could have read back then.


2. What is something new or surprising you learned about Noah Webster while researching for the book?

Noah wrote his big dictionary with a quill pen. I’d have a drippy mess, wouldn’t you? He also knew 20 different languages, played the flute, and liked to dance. He wasn’t always a pleasant guy, but he certainly was interesting!


3. We learn in your book that Noah Webster believed that the dictionary should change along with the way people use words and language. Even today, people still debate whether a dictionary should reflect language or if it should be the rule book for language. What are your thoughts?

It’s a tricky debate. Right now, I think we need both, as long as the rule book is updated frequently. How else would we know “emoji” instead of “eemojee”?


4. Do you have anything else coming out this year?

The “Fear Fest” series includes three of my books: Eerie ESP, Spooky Haunted Houses, and Chilling Ancient Curses. My book on elevators comes up this fall too (ha! elevator humor — this book won’t let you down!).


5. Lastly, any advice for our young writers?

Someone told me to write the book that I wanted to read. It’s not new advice, but even old advice can be good sometimes. 🙂

A special thanks to Tracy Maurer!

Locate your local independent book store to purchase Noah Webster’s Fighting Words, it is also available at most other nationwide bookstores or online.

June 2017: Featuring Author Mandy Davis

The author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is Mandy Davis.

The Challenge: Things In Common

What are your favorite three books? Do they all have something in common? Are they all by the same author? Do they all start with the same letter? Is the main color of the cover art your favorite color? What other similarities do they have?

Submit your responses by emailing and you might be published on our website!

Spotlight ON…Mandy Davis and her new book SUPERSTAR

An Interview with author Mandy Davis

1. What are your top 3 favorite books?

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban
The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo
The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling (Is it cheating to name a whole series? I guess if I had to pick just one, I’d say Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Mischief managed.)

2. When/how did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

The year was 2008. I had been an elementary school teacher for five years. While I loved the actual teaching, the mountain of papers always needing to be graded was wearing me down. One October evening, I was working late at school. It was 7:30 pm or so. I was tired. I was hungry. I was considering my options.

Suddenly, a thought popped into my head. What if I wasn’t a teacher anymore? I looked around. Had anyone heard me think that? After spending the last decade working toward becoming the best teacher I could possibly be, it felt almost sacrilegious to imagine myself doing something else. And what could I possibly do? Without missing a beat, another thought popped in my head. I could write.

A few months later, I was at a conference for writing teachers. At this conference, we spent a lot of time actually writing, which made me realize that more than teaching people how to write, I wanted to write myself. I finished out the school year with my fourth graders, then went to graduate school to get my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, which is where I wrote the first draft of SUPERSTAR.

3. What’s your favorite thing about writing? Least favorite?

My favorite thing is that moment when my writing actually makes me start to feel something. It usually takes a while to get there, but once I feel that emotional resonance, I know I’ve found the story.

My least favorite thing about writing is the deadlines. While I know that deadlines are necessary and they can help me get moving on a project, the amount of time it takes to complete something is usually a big question mark for me. Sometimes, I can write pages and pages in a day. Other days, I struggle for every sentence. When I’m under a deadline, instead of relaxing into the work, which results in my best writing, I tend to freeze up because I’m scared I won’t finish the project on time. In order to work successfully under a deadline, I try to finish way before the actual date it’s due. That way, if the work takes a lot longer than I expect it to, I’ll have some wiggle room.

4. How much time per week do you spend writing?

When I’m having a writing week, I write full-time, which ends up being about 30 hours a week. But not every week is a writing week for me. I usually write for a few months at a time; then I take some time away for other work. Sometimes I do house projects. Other times, I take care of family. It’s really important for me to keep a healthy balance between my writing work and the other things I do, which I like to call “life work.”

But even during my weeks of life work when I’m not physically writing, my mind is still working on a story. I usually return to writing with a bunch of new insights and ideas for my current work in progress. The time away also allows me to come back to a project and see it with fresh eyes, which is an integral part of the revision process. That time away ends up being just as important to my creative process as the time I spend writing.

5. What is the most difficult part of your creative process?

The act of writing is like walking into a giant, dark room. It’s all unknown, and while some people find the unknown exciting, I happen to find it absolutely terrifying. The longer I’ve been away from the writing, the bigger and darker (and scarier) the room is. So, even though spending time away is necessary to my process, that first day back is always really scary. Sometimes, I find myself putting it off for days (or even weeks) just because I’m too afraid to face it. Eventually though, the story in my head gets fed up with my procrastination. It doesn’t care that I’m scared and that I have no idea how I’m going to write it. It just wants to get out of my head and become real. So eventually, I take a lot of deep breaths, face my fears, and sit down to write. And just like that, as soon as I actually start writing, the room lights up and I wonder what I was ever scared of in the first place.

6. What was your path to publication?

While in graduate school at Hamline University, I met a lot of amazing people, one of whom was Jill Davis. We found our way into the same writing group, and she began working as an editor at HarperCollins Publishers. For over a year, she would send me notes. Was SUPERSTAR done yet? Had I finished the revision? When was she going to see it? Eventually, I gave her a date when I’d have it done. I was a few days late, but I finally got it to her. She presented the book at an acquisitions meeting a few weeks later, and I had an offer. I found my agent (Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown) and within a few months I had signed my first contract.

7. If you could tell your younger writing self something, what would it be?

Looking back at my life, I realize now that I was always a writer. Before I was even in kindergarten, I used to tell my mom the stories, and she would write them down for me. But as I progressed through school, writing became less about what tugged at my heart and more about assignments and grades. I still enjoyed the process and the work of putting words on a page to make something meaningful, but somewhere around middle school I stopped writing for me. I didn’t start writing for myself again until that fateful October night when I decided I wanted to become a writer. If I could tell my younger writing self something, it would be to keep writing what is in your heart. The writing you do for yourself is just as important (if not more important) than the writing you do for others.

A special thanks to Mandy Davis!

Locate your local independent book store to purchase SUPERSTAR, it is also available at most other nationwide bookstores or online.

May 2017: Featuring Author Kim Culbertson

The author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is Kim Culbertson.

The Challenge: Party Time

Our featured author, Kim Culbertson, talks to us about setting.

Pick one of your favorite places. Grab a pencil and paper or a new page in your word processor and describe it in detail (what does it look like, sound like, smell like?). Now, make that place the location of a party and describe it again. How did the party change your setting?

Submit your responses by emailing and you might be published on our website!


The Wonder of Us ” and Kim Culbertson


Kim Culbertson’s The Wonder of Us

An Interview with author Kim Culberston

1. When did you claim the title of being called writer? What about author?

What an interesting question — I love it. This is ultimately an identity question: how we define and label ourselves. It is one of the subjects I most love exploring in my work. I think that deep down I always knew I was a writer. I used to think, falsely, that you had to be published to call yourself a writer or an author and that is definitely not true. Being a writer or an author is a mindset, a lens — our own specific voice and interpretation of the world. And it is also doing the work. You are a writer if you are actively writing. Not necessarily every day, but in a way that you find meaningful and motivating. My daughter gave me a postcard with a quote from Picasso that says, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” Being a writer, for me, is doing the work.


2. This month we are talking about setting and descriptive language. How did you select the many different settings for your newest book “The Wonder of Us” released in April?
How would you describe your favorite setting/place in 3 juicy words?

I love to travel — everywhere I go in the world changes me in some way. I also love a good road trip novel, so for The Wonder of Us, I wanted that road trip feel but set in Europe, a place where I love to travel. In the novel, Abby, one of my main characters, is obsessed with the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, so I knew I needed seven cities to parallel that. I wanted to set part of the novel in Florence as it’s one of my favorite cities, so that came to me first. My editor, Jody Corbett, and senior editor, David Levithan, suggested Berlin, which ended up being such a significant setting for this story. The other settings — London, Zurich, Edinburgh, Reykjavik, and the girls’ fictitious Northern California town of Yuba Ridge came from places that are special to me.

I don’t have a favorite setting or place — but I love any place that includes a vast, surprising, color-drenched sky.


3. If Riya and Abby of “The Wonder of Us” had to live in different time periods when would they live? How would it change them?

Abby is obsessed with Ancient History so I feel like she would choose to live somewhere with a significant culture of change, like Ancient Egypt or Greece. But she knows that life would be difficult in those times and as a girl she would not have the rights she has now, so that would be a big impact on her. Riya would undoubtedly live in the future, perhaps somewhere in space. And she would wear killer space shoes.


4. Would You Rather: Would you rather have to write stories ALWAYS in the same place? Or ALWAYS with the same characters?

That is such a difficult question because I love both so much. It’s also a question that seems to hint at asking if I’d rather write a series or stand alone novels. So, for the sake of this question, I’ll choose new characters. For now, I’ve always wanted to start over with new characters, which is why I’ve written stand alone novels so far. I write very much to understand people, so changing characters continues to allow me to live in new perspectives.


5. It has been about a year since the release of your last book “The Possibility of Now“. What have you learned about your characters or the story now that so much time has passed?

I wrote this novel very much from my teacher heart, from seeing so many of my students stressed about their futures. I’ve been surprised and touched by the many emails readers have sent me to tell me how much they related to Mara. But I’ve also had emails from readers saying, “Wow, these sorts of kids always annoy me, but now I understand them more.” And this makes me so happy because I don’t think we should just read books because we relate to a character. It’s equally important to read about people we don’t relate to — it builds our empathy and compassion to see into the viewpoints of people who are unlike us.

6. Is Amazon the best place to purchase or do you have another preferred retailer?

I’m a huge indie bookstore girl. My local bookstore The Book Seller in Grass Valley, CA has been so wonderful to me, so I alway encourage people to get the books from their local independent store. Also, if they’d like a signed copy, they can order through the Book Seller and I will happily go sign their book. Check out my bio and photo at

A special thanks to Kim Culbertson!

Locate your local independent book store to purchase The Wonder of Us, it is also available at most other nationwide bookstores or online.

March 2017 Part 2: A Little Piece of the Past

The author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is Shawn K. Stout and her historical fiction book A Piece of Sky. She provided a great challenge about perception for us.  Submit a response to the challenge to and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?

The Challenge: Seeing is Believing

In A Tiny Piece of Sky, Frankie Baum is the youngest of three girls and often feels as though people don’t see her for who she really is, beyond her age and family ranking. Seeing people for who they really are, and not for who the world tells you they are, is a prominent theme of the book.

Write about how you think people see you, why they see you in that particular way, and whether they’ve got it right or not.


Submit your responses by emailing and you might be published on our website!


A Tiny Piece of Sky” and Shawn K. Stout



Shawn K. Stout is the author of several books for children, including the critically-acclaimed PENELOPE CRUMB middle grade series. Her new novel, A TINY PIECE OF SKY, a summer story of three sisters, one restaurant, and a (possible) German spy, is in bookstores everywhere.


An Interview with author Shawn K. Stout

1. A Tiny Piece of Sky is based on true events. How did you come to find out about the true story?

I grew up hearing stories about my grandfather, who died when my mother was a young girl–how he had German parents, how my mother was taunted by classmates because of her German last name, how my grandparents owned a restaurant in Hagerstown, Maryland in the 1930s and 1940s, how my grandfather was accused of espionage, and how there was a subsequent boycott of his restaurant. These were stories that were fed to me at the dinner table, but I only really thought of them as stories. Then, in the late 1990s, my grandmother died, and as we were cleaning out her apartment, we found letters from 1939 addressed to my grandfather. These letters were from various local civic organizations, and they voiced support for my grandfather in light of the German spy accusations and boycott. I knew as soon as I read those letters that one day I would try to write his story.


2. What sort of challenges come with writing historical fiction like A Tiny Piece of Sky?

Oh, lots. I’d never before written historical fiction, so there was a steep learning curve as I tried to figure out how much research I needed to do and how many details I should include in the story. Then, once I worked that out, I struggled with how much of my family’s life I should fictionalize. Many of the characters in the story, and events, are inspired by my actual family members, but they are not necessarily true to life. Ultimately, I wanted to get a flavor and real sense of the time period and the personalities of my characters, and how they are shaped by the events of 1939, and once I felt comfortable in that time period, I was able to let the fiction take over.


3. Tell us a little bit about how you came to be a professional writer.

I’ve always wanted to write, but that was something  so personal to me, so full of hope, that it took many years to admit it to myself. Somehow I ended up in writing and editing jobs for various companies, mostly about health care. Although that sort of technical writing was interesting to me, it wasn’t the kind of writing that would leave me with a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day. I wanted to write fiction–that’s what had been tapping me on the shoulder for years trying to get my attention. So, I took a writing class at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, and the first day of class we were assigned a writing prompt. What came out, to my surprise, was the voice of a young girl, and I knew soon after that I wanted to write books for young readers. I took more classes, wrote and read as much as I could, and then I heard about the Masters program in writing for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I applied, and by some miracle was accepted, and my life changed. I got a contract from Simon & Schuster to publish my first book in 2009, and I’ve written seven other books since then.


4. Is there anything else you would like to share or would like us to know about A Tiny Piece of Sky?

Because the movie “The Wizard of Oz” came out in 1939, the same year that my story takes place, and because I’d named my main character, Frankie Baum, after L. Frank Baum, the man who wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the book and the movie would play an important part in my story.As the youngest of three girls, Frankie wants to stop being cast aside as someone who is not quite old enough to really matter. She doesn’t feel as though she has a real place in the family—her oldest sister Elizabeth is as perfect as a “princess,” which just so happens to be her nickname, and Joan, in the middle, a natural performer, has the best singing voice in town. Perhaps Frankie could get others to see her, she thinks, really see her, if she could clear her father’s name and save his reputation. Like Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” Frankie lives in a bleak, colorless place and wants so much for her world (and her place in it) to change. The more I wrote about Frankie, the more similarities I began to see in Dorothy’s journey to Oz and finding her way back home.

A special thanks to Shawn K. Stout!

You can purchase A Piece of Sky at most bookstores or online on Amazon HERE.

Shawn K. Stout is the author of several books for children.

Find out more about her on her website at

March 2017: Heros Without Capes


The author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is author of “Sea Otter Heroes”, Patricia Newman. She provided great advice to writers, surprising animal info, and teaching resources!   Patricia has our Challenge this month, she wants to know what nature and science topic she should explore next!  

The Challenge: What’s Next?

What nature topic should Patricia dive in next?

Visit Patricia’s website at and send her an email if you have ideas!


(Patricia center. Photo Credit: Elise Newman)  

“Sea Otter Heros” author and conservationist Patricia Newman!

Author, Patricia uses her love of science and nature to make entertaining & educational works.  This Inksplat highlights her thoughts on the writing process and her newest book about Sea Otters!

An Interview with Author Patricia Newman

When did you call yourself a writer? What about an author?

I started to call myself a writer as a young mother when I began to jot down story ideas and turn them into manuscripts. Admittedly, they were messy and imperfect, but I was digging deep into my imagination and creating something new. And I had some success publishing stories and articles in children’s magazines. I only dared call myself an author after my first book, Jingle the Brass, was published.


Writing about something that you research is a lengthy process.  How do you stay inspired in the long revision and writing process? Any tips?

I go through two-step revision process with my writing. The first involves a lot of head-scratching, reading, rewording, and rethinking. I usually ask my husband or trusted writing friends to read a draft of my manuscript and offer feedback. Sometimes I work on their feedback right away, but frequently, I let the manuscript sit for a while before making changes. I need this vacation from my project because revision is about reimagining and rethinking, and it’s nearly impossible to find something new in a project when you’ve been laboring on it for many weeks. When I’m ready to begin work on the project again, I come to it with a fresh perspective. Many more days, weeks, or even months pass. Perhaps I ask my trusted readers for help again.

Eventually I’m satisfied enough with my manuscript to send it to my editor. I look forward to this part of the revision process because by the time my manuscript deadline draws near, I’ve been laboring on the same book for months and I’m quite tired of it! I need a break, and I know that my editor won’t return it to me with her comments for a few months because she’s so busy. My publisher’s revision timeline gives me needed distance.

My editor and I work very well together. She has a long history of producing award-winning titles, so I trust her judgment. I’m always anxious for her comments (and a little nervous, too, because I want to live up to her high standards). She generally appreciates my writing style—which I’m very happy about—but she almost always has organizational comments that require a new way of reimagining how I tell my story. My books rely on vast amounts of research, so sometimes it’s hard to see the “whole” because I get mired in the details. When I reorganize or reimagine with my editor’s comments in mind, I move great gobs of text from one place in the manuscript to another. This process helps me focus my story to say what I want to say.

For student writers, I suggest four things:

  1. Work on a computer if you can. It’s easier to revise if you don’t have to worry about recopying your story in long-hand. (Learning to type is an excellent skill for a writer!)
  2. Edit your story the best you can.
  3. Ask a friend or an adult for honest feedback. You’re not looking for “It’s wonderful, honey!” You need to know is your reader ever confused? Does your reader care about your characters? Is your plot exciting? Is your ending satisfying?
  4. Put your story in a drawer for a week or so. When you come back to it, you will read it with new enthusiasm and more easily spot the places you can reorganize and reimagine.


In your new book Sea Otter Heroes, you focus on how otters help the ecosystem.  What inspired you to learn and write about this phenomenon?

Chelsea Rochman, one of the scientists featured in Plastic, Ahoy!, invited me to a retreat sponsored by a fellowship of newly minted scientists who had just earned their PhDs. These scientists study a variety of conservation topics, such as native bees, forest fires and coral reefs. Chelsea asked me to talk about writing books about science for children, in the hopes that some of her colleagues’ work might make good reading for kids.


Marine biologist Brent Hughes approached me after my speech to discuss his research. Brent studies seagrass in an estuary off Monterey Bay—an inlet where fresh water and salt water mix. Seagrass is an underwater plant that lives in tidal areas and is definitely worth saving because it dampens waves to protect the coastline, it protects baby fish while they grow, and it captures carbon to reduce global warming. The estuary that Brent studies is bordered by farms. A lot of the fertilizers used on the farms run off into the estuary. The fertilizer usually makes choking algae grow, which eventually kills the seagrass. But the seagrass in the estuary was lush and green and healthy. Brent wanted to know why. Sea Otter Heroes shows how Brent solved the mystery and how the adorable, fuzzy-faced sea otters help.


Would You Rather: Would you rather have to write stories where you could never revise them OR Would you rather write stories you have to keep revising every month forever?

Wow, this seems like an impossible choice. I would never submit the first draft of anything I wrote (not even the responses to these questions). Revision is critical, but who wants to revise forever? Forever is a long time and my patience has limits!


Rather than choose one ghastly choice over another, I’d like to approach this question from a different angle. When I visit schools and read aloud to kids, most of the time I read the words that were published, but sometimes I revise my published work on the fly! I know this sounds crazy, but I look at every book as a learning experience. When it is published, it is as perfect as I can make it at the time and I’m proud to call myself the author. But with each title, I learn and grow as a writer so I look back on previous work to see if I would have done it differently as the author I am now. I think this is the fun part of writing. It’s always challenging us to be the best we can be.


What subjects or topics would you like to write about in future books?

My next book, coming out in the fall of 2017, is called Zoo Scientists to the Rescue. In this book, I follow three zoo scientists who save endangered orangutans, black-footed ferrets, and black rhinos. Expect a lot of fun photos and cool science that will make you want to be a zoo scientist, too!

Beyond that, I’m not sure what my next topic will be. I enjoy connecting my love of nature with science, so I expect I’ll tackle some aspect of conservation or endangered species. Visit my website at and send me an email if you have ideas!

Awesome Teaching Resources for “Sea Otter Heros”!

 Downloadable study guides, bookmarks and more HERE

A huge thanks to Patricia Newman for her insight!

You can get “Sea Otter Heros” through her publisher here and find out about her other books on her Amazon Page.

Find out more about Patricia’s work at: 

February 2017: The Long Journey to Short Stories

The author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is Rachel Yeaman. She provided great advice to short story writers about revision and more! This month’s awesome writing challenge is a great exercise in revision.  Submit a response to the challenge to and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?

The Challenge: Food for Thought

February we are focusing on the love/hate relationship with revision. Test your limits with this month’s challenge.

Write a short paragraph about the last thing you ate focusing on taste. Take a break (watch something on Netflix or read a chapter in a book).  Now, without re-reading your paragraph write down three new details you didn’t mention in the first paragraph.  Re-read your paragraph and choose only one detail to focus on.  Write a new paragraph only about that one detail.  

Submit your first and second paragraph responses by emailing and you might be published on our website!


“A Game of Inches” and Writing Short Stories with Rachel Yeaman!

Rachel Yeaman invites us into her writing journey and shares honest and helpful advice for authors, on revision, perfectionism, and a special look and working with short stories.

An Interview with author Rachel Yeaman


What is your process for revision and editing your stories?

Argh, revision! It feels so good just to finish a story that it’s tempting to call it “done”. But we rarely get it right the first time––I know I don’t. When I submitted the first draft of my short story, “A Game of Inches,” to my MFA advisor she told me to slash the story from 28 pages to ten. Ten pages!  All those beautifully chiseled sentences and carefully crafted metaphors…how could I cut them? I decided to give the story some breathing room until I could look at it with new eyes. Then I stripped it down, keeping only the elements that were essential to its beating heart. The second draft was stronger, but the ending wasn’t quite right. I put the story aside again, and, once I’d figured out the ending, asked other writers for feedback. After it was accepted for publication, I worked with the editor to make still more edits. All in all, it took two years for one tiny story! I think the key is to be open to feedback, and to let the work rest until you can see it fresh. Above all, don’t give up!


Tell us a little bit about your new story and what inspired you to write it?

My stories are always a blend of my own experiences and things I observe. “A Game of Inches” explores what happens when a young person measures their worth solely in terms of their achievements. Tanner, the protagonist, seems to have it all: with a pro-athlete dad, he was labeled a baseball phenom at the age of six. As a teen, Tanner is determined to maintain his privileged status, but beneath his swagger lies deep-seated fragility: he fears he’ll be revealed as a fraud. With another kid poised to take his place on the championship team, Tanner’s whole world may just fall apart… Although I don’t play baseball, I know how great––and how perilous––it can be to feel on top of the world. And, from watching my kids play, I’ve seen the passionate emotions that the game can elicit. So it seemed like the perfect backdrop for this story.


Sometimes young writers feel like their work has to be perfect.  Did you ever struggle with that feeling? What advice would you give?

Anne Lamott says that “perfectionism is the oppressor,” and I agree! I still struggle with the feeling that the work has to be perfect––in fact, the novel I’ve just finished deals with this very theme. I think many writers, old and young, want their work to come out right the first time, but worrying about perfection really stifles creativity. In order to write you have to turn off the inner critic and accept that your work will be messy and flawed. The best work comes when you really connect with your characters and commit to telling the truth about their journey and their struggles. Write in pursuit of exploration, not in pursuit of perfection. Write what you care about, and, above all, enjoy the ride!


When did you discover you wanted to be writer? What did your journey look like to get here?

I always secretly wanted to be a writer but never dared say it out loud. I studied English lit and worked for many years directing communications for advocacy and nonprofit organizations. I wanted to write fiction but never had the time––or courage! After I shattered my knee (a whole other story) I decided to grab the laptop and just…begin. I took classes, committed to writing every day, and eventually earned an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. I have a wonderful community of writers with whom I share and critique work, which is the greatest asset of all!   


Many students are writing short stories for this years “Inklings Book Contest”. What is one quick tip you can give about writing a short story?

Keep it simple! I see many short stories from student writers––of all ages–– that are so gloriously ambitious in scope that the ideas could fill 300 pages of a novel. I think the key to a successful short story is that it leads us to one moment in which we glimpse the true essence of a character or situation. Less is more in terms of plot––you only have a few pages, so don’t try to do too much!

A special thanks to Rachel Yeaman!

You can “A Game of Inches” in the Hunger Mountain Journal of the Arts, Issue 21, Masked /Unmasked (Feb 2017).  

Congrats on completing your new novel and we look forward to seeing it!

January 2017: A Scarf For All

The book and author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is Lost. Found. by Marsha Diane Arnold. She provided an awesome writing challenge for us and answered some of our questions about her wintry book and how she became an author. There even is a pdf teaching guide for teaching her book! Submit a response to the challenge and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?

The Challenge: Break and Fix

Lost. Found. is about putting things right after they have gone very wrong, about knitting something together after it’s been completely unraveled.

Have you ever broken something and been sad about it? Were you able to fix it? How did that make you feel? If you weren’t able to fix it, how did you feel?

Submit your response by emailing and you might be published on our website!



Lost. Found. written by Marsha Diane Arnold, illustrated by Matthew Cordell

On a wintry day, a bear loses his soft red scarf. The wind carries it *whoosh* to a pair of raccoons who use it to play tug-o-war. When they run off, a beaver dons the scarf as the perfect winter hat…until it gets tangled on a tree branch. The scarf is lost and found by a series of animals, including a fox and a couple of rascally squirrels, who use it as everything from a swing to a trampoline.

When all the animals lay claim to the scarf at once, calamity ensues that can only be fixed by a bear, a little patience, and friendship, in this nearly wordless, clever picture book.

An Interview with author Marsha Diane Arnold

What inspired Lost. Found.?

Sometimes my ideas come from something I read in the newspaper or on the Internet. Sometimes an idea comes from a walk in the woods or a memory or something I see or hear. Lost. Found. was different. The “story seed” came to me in a dream. It was a vision of a bear wearing a red scarf walking alone through a wintry forest. The scarf blew off in the wind, but the bear continued, not realizing it was gone. From there I woke up and had to think about what might happen next. I wondered if a series of animals found the scarf what they would do with it. And so the story began

Lost. Found. uses pictures as a driving force in the storytelling. What was your process working with an illustrator?

Lost. Found. consists of two words, each repeated nine times. Those eighteen words wouldn’t have impressed an editor if they had come across his desk. I had to help him understand the story that I saw inside my head. I had to write art notes.

Art notes are a bit like directions in a script. Usually, writers use art notes very sparingly as they want to give the illustrator free reign to do whatever he’d like with the illustrations. But Lost. Found. was an unusual case.

Matthew (the illustrator) took my art notes and, with his fabulous imagination, brought my characters to life. We didn’t talk about the book at all while he was working on the illustrations.

Matthew kept my story intact, but he also added a few things that heightened the meaning and the fun. For example, he used onomatopoeia in a few places to highlight the animals’ actions. “Zoing, toing, doing” is the sound made when the mice use the scarf as a trampoline.

You are known for your delightful books for young readers. Writing for that age group means you must know how to be brief while still telling a rich story. Can you speak to those challenges for our young writers who are learning about making cuts in their editing?

Sometimes I think of myself as a re-writer more than I think of myself as a writer. Much of writing is rewriting, cutting and rearranging words, and shaping your story.

When I started writing over twenty years ago, picture books of 1200 to1500 words were common, but today, editors like stories that are under 500 words. This can definitely be a challenge.

What I find most helpful in editing my work is to read it out loud, again and again. When you read your writing out loud you will hear when you repeat too much, you will hear when the “rhythm” is jolting instead of smooth, and you will know when your character or plot isn’t working. Then you can write it better.

Tell us a little bit about how you came to be a professional writer.

My road to becoming a professional writer began with my being an avid reader.  As a child, I read lots of books. My favorite were about animals, books like Lassie Come Home and Black Gold. But I never thought about writing books until I was grown with children of my own. It was my children and their friends who inspired my first writing with their antics, their questions, and their wonder of the world.

My first paid writing was for a newspaper column, homegrown treasures.  It was mostly about the world of my children and their friends and the wisdom I found in it. I wrote the column every week for ten years. That was good practice!

While I was writing the column, I also wrote for kids’ magazines. But my love was picture books, so I kept working on that genre until my first book Heart of a Tiger was published.

I was a “late bloomer.” It’s exciting that you Young Inklings are “early bloomers.” If you love writing and practice writing, you will have lots more stories and be much better writers than I by the time you’re my age. Keep writing!

Is there anything else you would like to share or would like us to know about Lost. Found.?

I love my character Bear and his peaceful Zen-like attitude. He didn’t get angry when he found his beloved scarf unraveled. He calmly picked it up and walked home, to do what needed to be done. The other animals watched and learned from his model of friendly persuasion.

Ultimately, the animals find that, perhaps, the most important thing to do with a red scarf is to knit it back together again. I love the ending where the animals, who have been fighting over the scarf, come together to make it whole again, ending in a friendly circle of community and cooperation.

Although writing is often a solitary act, there’s a lot of community and cooperation involved too, just as there was in Lost. Found. For example, the writer must cooperate with her editor and her illustrator. And there is always a community. For me, the community is my writing group, The Cliffhangers, and groups like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. For you, it’s the wonderful community of the Young Inklings.

Teaching Guide

You can find an awesome teaching guide to Lost. Found. on Marsha’s website It has lots of awesome activities.

A special thanks to Marsha Diane Arnold!

You can find Lost. Found. and Marsha’s other books on her Amazon Page and other retailers

You can also find out more about what Marsha is up to at her website,

May 2016: Lost and Found

The book and author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is Summer of Lost and Found by Rebecca Behrens. She provided an awesome writing challenge for us and answered some of our questions about her new book and how she became an author. Submit a response to the challenge and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?


The Challenge: Making History

If you could travel to any time or place in history, where would you go—and what would you want to find?

Submit your response by emailing and you might be published on our website!


Summer of Lost and Found by Rebecca Behrens 

Nell Dare expected to spend her summer vacation hanging out with her friends in New York City. That is, until her botanist mom dragged her all the way to Roanoke Island for a research trip. To make matters worse, her father suddenly and mysteriously leaves town, leaving no explanation or clues as to where he went—or why.

While Nell misses the city—and her dad—a ton, it doesn’t take long for her to become enthralled with the mysteries of Roanoke and its lost colony. And when Nell meets Ambrose—an equally curious historical reenactor—they start exploring for clues as to what really happened to the lost colonists. As Nell and Ambrose’s discoveries of tantalizing evidence mount, mysterious things begin to happen—like artifacts disappearing. And someone—or something—is keeping watch over their quest for answers.

It looks like Nell will get the adventurous summer she was hoping for, and she will discover secrets not only about Roanoke, but about herself.


An Interview with author Rebecca Behrens

What inspired Summer of Lost and Found? 

I first learned about the Lost Colony of Roanoke when I read about it in my fifth-grade history textbook. There was just a small picture and a little sidebar of text—not enough information about such a tantalizing history mystery! I never stopped wondering what happened to the missing colonists and also what life was like on Roanoke Island then, in 1587, and now. So eventually I had the idea to write about a contemporary girl who becomes just as fascinated by the story of Roanoke as I am, but who has a chance to start uncovering clues about what really happened.


In the book, Nell has to spend her Summer vacation in Roanoke Island, North Carolina instead of at home in New York City. What drew you to pick Roanoke as the primary setting in your book?

I love the ocean—one of my favorite places to go in the summer is Fire Island, a barrier island off the coast of Long Island in New York. There’s something magical about the salty air, lush plants, and wandering deer. So I was excited about getting to spend my writing time imagining a similar Atlantic island setting. And of course I used this as an excuse to take a trip to check out coastal North Carolina myself! Roanoke Island is probably my ideal spot, because it has both a lot of natural beauty and so much rich history.

I also wanted to give Nell a setting in which she’d be free to explore. During her summer on Roanoke, Nell has a bicycle and unlimited time to investigate her new surroundings. In a lot of ways, this book is about discovery: Nell finds out a lot about Roanoke and its history but also her family, her friends, and herself.


Your first novel, When Audrey Met Alice also weaves in history with a modern-set story. Where does your love of history come from?

I have always been a history fan. As a kid, my teachers and librarians gave me an endless supply of historical fiction that nurtured my interest. My whole family loves history, and my childhood road trips included stops at every plaque and historic site along the way. (Those were long car rides.) Travel and reading showed me that not only is the present world a beautiful, complicated, and fascinating place—the past is, too.


Tell us a little bit about how you came to be a professional writer.

I had wanted to be a writer since I was a reading-obsessed kid, but I first started working as an editor. I enjoy that part of the book-making process—helping others make their words shine—but eventually I wanted to work with words of my own, too! I started writing fiction with the goal of publishing a book in 2009, and it took five years for my first one to be on shelves. I first wrote a manuscript that will stay in my desk drawer forever, and next I wrote When Audrey Met Alice. I revised that book probably seven times—so I always want to remind young writers that it takes lots of revision, reading, and patience to become a professional writer! Don’t feel discouraged if your first—or second, or sixth—drafts aren’t quite the way you want them to be.


Is there anything else you would like us to know about Summer of Lost and Found? 

Pets are another thing I love to write about. In When Audrey Met Alice, the Roosevelts had lots of cool White House pets: horses, guinea pigs, a badger, and of course a green garter snake. But as much as I loved Alice’s Emily Spinach, I think the pet character in Summer of Lost and Found—a friendly and curious golden retriever named Sir Walter Raleigh—has been my favorite to write so far. He’s loosely based on my next-door neighbors’ dogs from when I was a kid: Freddy and Maude.



Thanks again to Rebecca Behrens!

You can pre-order her new book, Summer of Lost and Found at Amazon and other retailers.

You can also find out more about what Rebecca is up to at her website,

April 2016: Inklings Book Edition



This month, our writer elves have all been busy putting together our 2016 Inklings Book! Mentors have been workshopping with the contest winners and editorial letters are being written to all of our applicants. In this month’s Ink Splat we wanted to feature the judges that helped us make this year’s Inklings Book possible. These judges are authors that inspire us, and in turn, they were inspired by you, our young writers! 

The Challenge: A Peak Into the Future

It’s the year 2036 and you are a published children’s author, just like our friends spotlighted below. We want to read your official author biography! Your tone can be serious or funny, it can be long or short. Here are some questions to think about: What kinds of books have you written? How many? Have you won any awards? Where do you live? Do you have any children? Any other jobs? What are your favorite hobbies as an adult? Do you like to drink lots of coffee now that you’re grown up? If you need more ideas, you can click the authors’ website links below for more examples.

Submit your response HERE!



Our 2016 Inklings Book Judges




Mandy Davis

We cannot wait to read Mandy Davis’ upcoming book, Superstar about a science-loving 10-year-old boy who transitions from homeschool to public school for the first time. Before being bitten by the writing bug, Mandy was an elementary school teacher, a record store clerk, and once she even sold hamburgers on the sidewalk. She currently writes, games, sings (and lives) in Minneapolis, MN. You can visit her website and find out more at

Jennifer Fosberry

Jennifer Fosberry’s Isabella books inspire our imaginations to run away with us just like the title character’s. You can hear Isabella: Star of the Story read aloud at Jennifer’s website. Jennifer is a science geek turned children’ book writer. After working in the high tech industry in Silicon Valley and running away to Costa Rica for a few years, she returned to the San Francisco Bay area to read, write, and try to get out of housework. She lives with her husband and three children and her little dog, too.

Marilyn Hilton

Marilyn Hilton’s most recent YA book is Full Cicada Moon.  The story takes place in 1969 and follows a young girl of mixed heritage who wants to become an astronaut. Marilyn is the author of two novels and two nonfiction books. She has also published numerous articles, devotions, short stories, and poems in literary and consumer magazines, and has contributed to various compilations. Her work has won several awards including the Sue Alexander Award for 2011. You can learn more at her website,

Tim McCanna

Tim McCanna has two new books coming next year, Water Song and Jack B. Ninja. We know they won’t disappoint! His first children’s book, Teeny Tiny Trucks was called “a delightful story” and “a clever rhyming adventure” by Kirkus Reviews. Tim has been an actor, musician, musical theatre writer, graphic designer and dad. Now, he’s combining all those experiences into being a writer for children.  You can see more from Tim at

Laura Ruby

Laura Ruby has written for kids, teens, and adults.  Last year she released a teen thriller titled Bone Gap about a kidnapping in a small town. Born in the Midwest and raised in suburban Wayne, New Jersey, Laura Ruby is the daughter of a psychologist and a cop. This means that she is both nosy and deeply suspicious. She is currently on the faculty of Hamline University’s Masters in Writing for Children Program. You can visit her website here.  

David Shannon

David Shannon is a prolific children’s author and illustrator. We love is series of books about a little boy named David who can’t seem to stay out of trouble. David liked to draw as soon as he could hold a crayon. He went to Hutton Elementary school where his teachers soon realized that if they let David draw murals it would keep him from disrupting class and their classroom would have some pretty good art on the walls, too. David has written and/or illustrated over 35 books for children. He lives in Los Angeles with his Wife, Heidi and his daughter, Emma. You can learn more about David’s work at

Thanks again to our judges! We can’t wait to share the final product at the end of the Summer.

One final thing… The Inklings Book wouldn’t be possible without our sponsors, either! Thank you to San Benito Realty, True Leaf Farms, and Joe and Glenda Zanger.

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