And Contact! Finding the long-lost Rys Family.

L to R: Karolina Orlowska (our third cousin who helped make this all happen), my sister Linda Reid, Uncle George Orlowska and Irena (our first cousin whom we’d never met) Kris Teibler (our first cousin) and Margaret, husband Rick Pease (background), our Aunt Elizabeth (foreground, mother of Kris and dad’s last living sibling at 81), me, and Agnes, a family friend who tirelessly translated for hours.


Continue Reading April 26, 2018 at 2:19 pm 3 comments

A Pretty Much Foolproof, Never-Fail, Silver-Bullet Query Opening

An entertaining agent’s look into the wacky world of querying.

John M. Cusick

Like this post? Then check out my November 19th webinar HOW TO BE A WRITER WITHOUT LOSING YOUR MIND: Balancing Work, Life, and Craft. There will be a Q and A as well as query critiques for all attendees. You should check it out!

Hello there.

A few days ago I posted about my move to Folio Literary, and what I’ll be seeking.

As I rev up the ol’ query inbox (which is already rumbling with submissions), I figured I’d take a moment to talk a bit about the query letter.

How— I mean, for serious, how on earth— does anyone write a query letter?

It seems so difficult. Not only are you trying to put your best foot forward and stand out from the dozens— no, HUNDREDS UPON HUNDREDS— of other queriers, you’ve got to summarize your manuscript (impossible), make it sound exciting (huh?), comp it to other…

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May 30, 2017 at 5:53 pm Leave a comment

Bologna Children’s Book Fair:√

My husband and I just returned from the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the largest children’s book fair in the world, and a big bucket listing for me.IMG_1254We arrived on Sunday, the day before the fair opened, and attended a related event at the Museo D’Arte Moderna Di Bologna.  Picture book authors Andrea Antinori and Somin Ahn were signing their book THE TIME AND THE WHALES at a wine and cheese, buzzing with pre-fair energy. IMG_0517IMG_0521IMG_0518

I thought this was a clever display for Un Minuto, on the right, and may try the idea myself for events.

Entering into the Bologna Children’s Book Fair on opening day is like stepping through the looking-glass, an overstimulation of sights and sounds, various languages overheard, walls lines with eye-candy illustrations pinned by hopeful artists, and rows and rows and buildings and buildings of booths from around the world.  IMG_0536IMG_0543Since I’m half-Polish I had to take this one!


I met a lovely British art director, which set my day into motion for swallowing my shyness and introducing myself to some key people in the industry.  I have my husband to thank for this.  He’s participated in many trade shows and told me to put myself out there and meet the right people.  We only had one day there and it was the best one–opening day–so I wanted it to be a success.  I shared a lot of my brochures and business cards and gathered just as many from some really friendly and helpful colleagues. As an author, spending many intimate hours tapping away on your computer, you lose a little perspective about what’s going on in the publishing world.  This show fast-forwards you into the exciting global picture.

IMG_0525IMG_0529 The tone overall tended toward selling foreign rights, discovering talented illustrators, and what’s new in digital design. Whether you’re an illustrator or author, if you’d like to meet with an agent or publisher, you must make an appointment months in advance.  IMG_1252.jpgIMG_1253.jpgIMG_0539IMG_0503After the fair we walked along the main street and I had an incredible, though oily rich calamari salad.  Don’t make the ugly American mistake of asking for a little butter with your bread instead of olive oil… This is what I got–a bowl of butter, yum!  My husband wisely ordered the Pasta Bolognese, what Bologna is knows for.IMG_0551IMG_0509Determined to find some Italian shoes to replace my Ohsotouristatennies, I went to the fun flea market and met Grace Vignola, an ebullient italian who loved speaking broken english and helping me with my even more broken italian.  I so wanted to buy a pair from her stall, but the shoes she’d brought over from her store, handed down through the family, didn’t have my surfboard size..otto.   Still, she invited me to her house next time I’m in Bologna and I have her info. on a piece of shoe box.

Like it is after attending any great literary event, I needed to write.  As we trained from Bologna to Monaco, our final stop of the trip, I worked on my YA history mystery.  I was invigorated,  bathing in the afterglow of an experience that revealed the Children’s publishing industry is not only alive and well, but sizzling.IMG_0563

If you’re fortunate enough to visit Bologna, (and I hope you do because the Italians are lovely) I encourage you to add the 2017 Bologna Children’s Book Fair to your bucket list.  Don’t be intimidated by its size and global reach.  It’s a great way to connect with like-minded people from many countries and just might be a happy turning point for you.


April 29, 2016 at 11:46 am 1 comment

When a Horse Goes Home

ImageIt’s been four months since releasing my fifth children’s book, and first narrative non-fiction chapter book, Safe at Last. True Stories of Horse Rescues.  What a wild west ride it’s been–from super fun book launch at Barnes & Noble, where Mini Pearl, Colorado Horse Rescue’s Mini Ambassador, entered the store, much to the audience’s delight, to nice reviews and kid reader appeal, and not necessarily all horse nuts, either.  Mini Pearl, who appears throughout Safe at Last, sharing her pearls of horse wisdom, is very popular when she’s able to appear helping to promote the book.  Of course, this is her job: helping the community learn about her home at Colorado Horse Rescue and all the fine work they do there.

IMG_1107While working on the computer at Colorado Horse Rescue, I tried to think of another way I could volunteer  my skills to help them out.   Shawna English, Director of Development at CHR, who also has a childhood development background, helped me choose six of the most heart-warming rescue and adoption stories that would appeal to readers age seven on up. Roxanne Capaul, CHR Photographer, offered her existing and new photography to enhance the text into a visual treat, so young readers could experience the exciting and hopeful world of horse rescue.  Horse blog2

My editor at Filter Press, Doris Baker, helped shape the age-appropriate text for indie readers, with bold-faced words for the glossary in back and language that meets Common Core.  Carol Bryce, Director of CHR, along with several other staff members,  past volunteers, my super savvy critique group–Kim Tomsic, Sally Spear, Will Limon and Penny Berman, those involved in horse therapy and educators, read drafts and kindly offered their expertise.  Then Doris, Roxanne and I hunkered down to meet the release deadline and finished the last edit on the day it went to print.  Truly a collaborative labor of love and belief in this hybrid type of book about the amazing resilience, intelligence and hope that horses offer us.IMG_1108

I ran into a wonderful representative with those qualities, Mandy, along with her brand new adopter, Terri.  With CHR’s patient training and love, Mandy’s overcome her people fear and also gained 125 needed pounds.  Terri will adopt this beauty and move Mandy “…to a pen with a few geldings for her to flirt with, nap in the sun and go for walks with me.” Terri, who lost her last companion horse, wanted another companion horse and learned about Mandy at CHR’s Open House. (In June)  We at CHR are so happy when another horse goes home.


February 15, 2016 at 1:25 pm 1 comment

Free Fall Friday – Results with Bethany Strout

That was really insightful and interesting to see how my own observations meshed with Bethany’s. Wondering if she’s now open to submissions? Thanks.

Writing and Illustrating

bethanystrout Bethany Strout

Bethany Strout is an Associate Editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. You can follow her on Twitter at @BethanyStrout

Bethany will be attending the NJSCBWI Conference in June.

She is always looking for novels where the setting is its own character, romances that feel messy and real, fully realized fantasy worlds, and a middle grade puzzle novel in the vein of The Westing Game! She is drawn to picture books that tell true or imagined stories with emotional resonance. Prior to joining LBYR in 2010, Bethany worked her way through the book business with stops at her local library, The University of Chicago Press, and the literary agency Writers House.

What she likes: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Picture Books, and Young Adult Books, also Rhyme/Edgy/Mystery/Books in verse/Science Fiction and High-Fantasy.

Follow her on Twitter at @BethanyStrout


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May 29, 2015 at 2:39 pm Leave a comment

My First Message in a Bottle

IMG_0352Amid the bulbous kelp and sand, I spied a bottle half buried, as I jogged along the early morning beach last week. The San Diego sun hadn’t peeped through the marine layer yet, so objects came into focus in the pearl gray light. IMG_0347The clear bottle contained a yellow note rolled up–like it should be, a stick-on-moustache and a rubber band. Since this was spring break, I narrowed my eyes and looked around at the beach houses that lined the boardwalk, certain I’d see some college boys doubled over with laughter from their party perch.  It was 8 a.m. though, so that answered those suspects.  I inched out the note and, to my delight, it was written in a child’s handwriting. IMG_0356 I recognize a true kid’s writing after the sweet letters I’ve received over the years from my readers. Seven-year-old Garrett was on spring break at Mission Beach March 13-21. The finder was supposed to call and he gave his number, which showed on my phone was from Oklahoma.  Of course I called!  I left a message to the effect: “Hi Garrett.  I’m the lucky person who discovered your bottle–my first message in a bottle!  I write children’s books (and was on my way to a book signing as I left the message) and just wanted to let you know you may have inspired my next idea for a picture book. Call me back if you’d like.” And then I left my number. Which, I’m sure, his mother must have said, “I’d prefer you don’t call that strange woman back.”  Or maybe Garrett ran down to the beach that morning before breakfast and tossed it about fifteen feet into the waves. Then ran back to his rental, thinking all the while it would make it to China, instead of some weird lady who found it an hour later. And maybe Mom got my message and didn’t give it to him so he wouldn’t be disappointed.  I’m a writer: we think like this all the time!

The good news is I’m still mulling over this bottle and how to turn it into one of my whodunits. What was the significance of the stick-on-mustache and rubber band? Should I write it as a picture book or chapter book?  Should I have the main character Garrett?  Only time in a bottle will tell.  Sorry, I’m a writer…

April 1, 2015 at 3:21 pm 1 comment

You Can Judge a Book by Its Title, and Other Wisdom from the Submission Pile


RGPkey_with_highlightsGUEST POST by Rob Broder, President & Founder of Ripple Grove Press

We have received over 2000 submissions at Ripple Grove Press (RGP) since we opened our doors in 2013, and we have read them all. Only a few make it into our “revisit” folder for another look. Many do not make it there for a simple reason: they do not follow our submission guidelines.

Rob Broder signing off on printer's proofs Publisher Rob Broder signing off on printer’s proofs.

Follow the Submission Guidelines

Our website clearly states that we do not accept stories with a holiday or religious theme, yet my inbox receives submissions with a holiday theme or a religious mention, or submissions about God or the stars in the heavens. Not only do those stories get passed over, they make it difficult to want to move forward on any project with that writer. By not following our guidelines, that person wasted their own time…

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February 4, 2015 at 10:30 am Leave a comment

When I attended the SDSU Writer’s Conference

San Diego State University (SDSU) Extensions Program had their 31st annual Writer’s Conference this January, featuring all writing genres. As a 198–(you guess) SDSU Journalism grad, I’ve wanted to attend this conference for several years. Now that my daughter attends SDSU and my sister agreed to fly down from the Bay Area and join me afterward, it seemed a no-brainer, right?

I looked forward to meeting children’s books agent, Caryn Wiseman, from Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc. and Simon & Shuster Children’s Picture Book Editor, Alyson Haler. Allotted ten minutes each, in a semi-pitch session that resembled speed-dating meets American Idol, I received great feedback from both and a request for re-submission after editing.

I’d like to share a few nuggets gathered at the conference that apply to most genres.
From Agent Betsy Amster of Betsy Amster Literary:
*Regarding queries–make sure the first paragraph is easy to understand. “This ______ (word count) _________(genre, like distopian or historical, etc.)__________________(category, like YA, etc) is about…..
In the second paragraph, plunge into the scene.
In the third paragraph of your query, it’s okay to say you’re excited about this book and why.

*Amster said, “Agents love blogs.” Nuff said.

Book Architecture, an author-help website ( encourage blogging, too, using wordpress, ( the easiest site. (I’ll vouch for that) Blogging ideas offered: writing advice, excerpts from your manuscript, how hard the writing life is. Blogs, along with newsletters, increase traffic to your web site or social media page.

Picture book author, Susan Katz (“My Mama Earth,” “ABC, Baby Me,” and Scholastic’s upcoming “ABC, School’s For Me!”) said publishers are scrambling for non-fiction because of the recent adoption of new common core standards. You can download the ap for Common Core Standards to align with your manuscript. Social Studies and Science curriculums are not the same statewide but the other subjects are.

Katz said you can form a focus group of age appropriate kids and ask them what they want to know about the topic you’re writing about, whether non-fiction or fiction.

I enjoyed this three day conference, even managing to soak up a few minutes of San Diego poolside sun, between workshops, and meeting some lovely writers–one from my home state, Colorado. Great mid winter break!

February 3, 2015 at 6:03 pm Leave a comment

Cabin Fever: Like half the country right now.

Over the past frigid week I’ve edited four pages of my YA, cleaned the oven and the guest bedroom, laid shelf paper in the laundry room, sent out agent queries, gained three pounds and shoveled more snow than your typical Siberian suburbanite. Today we rose above zero, then we kept rising.  Kiki and I looked at each other and said, (well, I said) “Let’s get outta here and go for a run.” If a dog could laugh, she did.Image

I decided to drive until my car thermometer hit 23, arriving at one of our favorite trailheads off of Baseline Rd in S. Boulder.  The sun actually came out then.  Every single person I passed on the trail, with or without dog, smiled as if to say, “Cabin fever, too, eh?” Sunlight etched the melted stream as it flowed between banks of emerald ice.  In the distance another flurry cascaded over the flatirons and scattered across Boulder.  But it never came our way.  

My cabin fever broke as I ran through the tunnel beneath S. Boulder Rd. and out toward a snowy pasture, dotted with cattle.  But a foreigner lurked among the cattle, erratic and sneaky.  Wiley Coyote. Ain’t nothin’ worse than a varmint after a week of -17 nights and this guy looked like he wanted hamburgers for dinner.  My chicken Mcnugget and I did a U-turn and ran as fast as we could.  Which isn’t very fast in runner’s world. Thank God Wiley didn’t spot us because, at our pace, he probably could have overtaken us at a trot.

ImageIt’s amazing how, after days of arctic temps and snow–so unusual for Boulder– that the teens look good, actually bring a smile to your face.  And when the temps rise even more, into the 20’s, things come into focus, like sun glitter on snow, and a balmier kinder breeze that maybe, just maybe, hints at spring.

February 7, 2014 at 6:09 pm Leave a comment

Flood Rhymes With Mud and Crud

Day 4:  More Rain

What did Colorado do wrong?  More rain. Really?  Unfathomable, after a foot and a half already, even with a break of sun in Day 3, lighting hope everywhere.  We knew it was possible yesterday, just hoped it wasn’t true, or at least not as bad a rain.  But it’s pretty steady, even torrents at times this morning, and I think of my next door neighbor with the flooded basement we all just cleaned up and those still evacuated or stranded, like one of my friends.  Family and friends suddenly come into focus as I spend most of my time on the phone or computer, ignoring work and dishes that have piled up, just to connect, vent, be thankful.  It has been quite the voyage.


Day 3:  Sun came out and so did the neighbors.

As I drive back from the mall with the last pair of size 8 rain boots possible left in the city, I look in my rear view at the charcoaled clouds smothering Denver and beyond.  The emergency broadcast rips over the station that there’s a flood warning there, seek higher ground or you could die.  I drive back to my neighborhood with pink rimmed clouds layered in yellow and gray, popcorning throughout the skies, to see how my husband is doing, bouncing along on the tractor in our cul-de-sac, like Eddie Albert in Green Acres.  Many wonderful neighbors help shovel leaden mud into the tractor and then Rick dumps it into the cul-de-sac center so flood debris doesn’t clog our storm drain again.  My shoulders hurt so I took a break for a little retail rain boot therapy.  Amazing what a pair of purple rain boots can do for a flooded soul.  The first picture is of “Joel,” who just showed up from Wonderland Hill, and was traveling around the hardest hit areas just to see where he could help.  I took a picture because I thought he might be one of those angels that shows up at emergencies and then disappears before anyone can acknowledge him.Image ImageImage

Day 2: Still raining but not so bad.

We head out with the dog to see the house on the corner of 19th and Upland that motivated yesterdays partial evacuation.  Class 3 rapids from its bordering creek slammed into the house and made it lean, ready to topple over, firefighters feared, and wash down Upland towards our cul-de-sac.  Break in the weather so Rick goes to work and I head to Target to find rain boots, since my Merrell boots are still drying out and they’re useless in the flood waters since only calf-high. Target’s only had about a million requests, the clerk says.  I buy bottled water and few groceries to tide over.  We help all of the local news station’s ratings, with constant vigilance of the devastation.  Finally, the emergency sirens that practice monthly and are largely ignored, are sounded.  11 p.m. sirens gargle in the driving rain with a muffled announcement.  I call the emergency center and they tell me we don’t need to evacuate but the mouth of the canyon to Broadway does.  I don’t sleep very well, with rushing brown water images imprinted behind my eyelids.ImageImage

Day 1: 5 a.m. The smacking rain, accompanied by river sounds never heard from our bedroom window, awaken me.  The flood is here. Everything shuts down throughout the city, and we find, across the Front Range.  It is biblical proportions, as the National Weather Center announces, unprecedented, relentless almost tropical feeling rain, so bizarre for us in our droughtish land.  Boulder Creek swells to over twice its normal table and rivers and lakes form from our cul-de-sac to pasture lands and streets.  Sadly, a few have died, including a couple of seventeen-year-olds and the numbers will probably rise over the coming week.  Crawdads and cactus, mingled with an odd assortment of colanders, baby seats, washing machines, wood and a shag carpet of mud line now-river banks and sidewalks where the flood waters swept.  Some have water up to their car handles.  Some of no running water or electricity.  We have blessedly skated through, with no water damage, though several on our street have flooded basements.  My husband works with a flashlight in the dark rain to keep the storm drain clear, though it keeps plugging up, filling our cul-de-sac.ImageImageImageImage


September 15, 2013 at 2:02 pm Leave a comment

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