Kristine Asselin: Stretch Your Writing Muscles

IMG_8233-2-2 (1)“What do you write?”

It’s often the first question people ask when you meet them at a writer’s conference. I find that most people can boil their answer down into one or two categories.

I always struggle to keep my answer concise, because I write in more than one category. YA, MG, Nonfiction, and the occasional picture book. Being flexible in my writing style has been a key reason for some of the success I’ve had.

One piece of advice I always give new writers is to try to write in more than one category. Stretching yourself and having flexibility is often the difference between being a writer and being a published author.

When I started writing seriously about ten years ago, I was all about picture books. My daughter was small and it seemed manageable. Write a novel? No flipping way could I ever do THAT. Are you kidding?

But then I wrote a short story loosely based on my own experience as a teen. I had a longer story that demanded to be told. Hazzah! It was like a bright light suddenly illuminated my writing!

I became a YA writer.

Selling my YA novel turned into marathon. I never gave up on it, but in between querying and revising and writing a new novel, I submitted a writing sample to an educational publisher and got my first work-for-hire contract for a nonfiction book.

That first contract gave me my first experience working with an editor and meeting writing deadlines. Having those first few books under my belt made me more marketable to my agent.

Writing and researching nonfiction topics under a tight deadline gave me a different skill set. It made me work faster. It made me stress less about each and every word choice.

I hear a lot of people throw around this cliché piece of writing advice: Write what you know.

Final CoverBut I think you need to have a broader scope—IF you want to have a long career in writing. Trends come and go. You need to be open to writing what you don’t know. I didn’t know much about women in World War One, but I just finished a 15K nonfiction book for grades 6-8 about that topic. If I’d stayed true to “write what you know,” I would have been too nervous to take the project.

I didn’t know much about hockey. But my debut novel centers on a girl who plays hockey on a boys’ hockey team to the chagrin of her parents, who’d rather her focus on the family restaurant. Finding a friend to help with hockey knowledge, and doing a lot of research helped me make the voice authentic.

Here are a couple of writing exercises:

  1. Try writing a scene in a different genre—if you write contemporary, try writing something historical.
  2. Try writing something for a different age group—if you write YA, try writing a picture book.
  3. Try writing in a genre you’ve never tried.
  4. Try rewriting a scene in your current MS from different POV.

Trying even one of these writing exercises will make you a stronger writer, and who knows, you might find out that you’re really good at something you’ve never considered.

I’ve been doing a workout DVD lately, and the instructor likes to say, “it doesn’t get easier, you just get better.”

Challenging yourself to write in different categories and genres will make you better.

About Kristine

Kristine Carlson Asselin lives in Massachusetts and writes Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction. Her debut YA novel ANY WAY YOU SLICE IT (Bloomsbury Spark) came out in April 2015. She is also the author of fifteen children’s books for the elementary school library market. Kris volunteers with the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, and loves Harry Potter, Doctor Who, classic rock from the 70’s and 80’s, and anything with a time travel theme.

She is a proud member of SCBWI-New England, a contributor to the Sporty Girl Books blog, and a host for the weekly twitter chat #MGLitChat. Kris does query package critiques under the alter-ego @QueryGodMother and loves doing school visits for kids all over New England. Follow Kristine on twitter @KristineAsselin and learn more at

Buy Any Way You Slice It here:




Sad but True Ode to William Carlos Williams

Hello Nerdy Chicks! It has been a while since I posted … and I will eventually post about the past few months… because I’m sure many of you have been there and can relate. But for now, I hope you’ll enjoy this photo post. A poem I left for my husband. And yes, I know I’d be better off eating plums, but this is the honest truth. Because it isn’t a happy moment around here when someone consumes the last diet coke. (True confession: My husband didn’t get it… never studied William Carlos Williams! Do you?) Hope the rest of your weekend is great!

20150708_173153To read William Carlos Williams’ infinitely better original poem, click HERE.  Whatever you went to the icebox for today, I hope it was there waiting for you!


Pssst. Registration is still going on for Kidlit Summer School. And we just released the new banner check it out by clicking HERE.

Kidlit Summer School 2015 – Open for Registration!

Are you looking for a way to keep writing through the dog days of summer?

Do you want to be inspired by some of the best writers in children’s literature?

Do you hope to create compelling plots?

badgeThen YOU should join a fun and fabulous community of people here at Summer School who are as passionate about kidlit as you are!

What is Summer School?

Not long after authors Kami Kinard and Sudipta Bardhan- Quallen started blogging together at kami and they decided they wanted to create a blog-centric event that focused on craft. They spent a long time brainstorming (a favorite activity of both) and came up with #KidlitSummerSchool. Kami and Sudipta both enjoy writing, and teaching writing, so their idea was to create a program that offers in-depth writing advice on a particular topic each summer, hosted at their sister site, The 2014 focus was on character development. The 2015 focus will be on plotting in children’s literature.

Daily blog posts by authors and writing professionals will offer inspiration and help you hone your craft. Our “faculty” includes award-winning PB, MG and YA authors!

Kidlit Summer School is for anyone one who loves to write children’s literature, from accomplished writers, to those just starting out.

Register for Kidlit Summer School 2015: The Plot Thickens

Last year was a very successful kick-off, but it was a lot of work — too much for two people to continue by themselves! So we are very happy to announce we have a whole team working on Summer School this year. This “Board of Education” is going to make this year even better than last year!

The Board of Education:


Co-Founder of Kidlit Summer School

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
 is an award-winning children’s book author whose books include Duck Duck Moose (a CBC Children’s Choice Award Finalist), Tyrannosaurus Wrecks (a Junior Library Guild Selection), Orangutangled, and Chicks Run Wild. She in the founder of Kidlit Writing School and frequently speaks about the craft of writing at schools and conferences all around the world. You can learn more about her and her books on her website or at her blog where she blogs with Kami.

Head Shots from Carpe Diem 008

Co-Founder of Kidlit Summer School

Kami Kinard is the author of The Boy Problem (Scholastic, 2014) and The Boy Project (Scholastic, 2012). Her poetry, stories, articles, and essays have appeared in numerous periodicals for children and adults. A former public educator, Kami remains dedicated to teaching and often leads writing workshops at conferences and in schools. You can visit her at or at where she blogs with Sudipta.

BOOKS RULE photo (1)Marcie Colleen is a former classroom teacher turned picture book author. Her forthcoming picture books include The Adventure of the Penguinaut (Scholastic) and Love, Triangle (Balzer+Bray / HarperCollins). She is a frequent presenter at conferences for SCBWI, as well as a faculty member of Kidlit Writing School. Visit her on the web at

DawnDawn Young has a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA. After leaving the corporate world to raise her children, Dawn’s creative spirit called her to a career in writing. Dawn also assists Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen with her KidLit Picture Book A-Z courses, and tutors math. You can visit Dawn’s blog at

leeza 2015Leeza Hernandez is a picture book illustrator-author who spends her creative time noodling around with story ideas and printmaking in her studio. She is Regional Advisor for New Jersey SCBWI and her latest illustrated book and third in the Homework series Eat Your U.S. History Homework (Charlesbridge) releases in October. Visit her on the web at

#NJSCBWI15: A Conference in Pictures

This past weekend, the Nerdy Chicks met up in Princeton, NJ for the 2015 New Jersey SCBWI Conference, and it was wonderful from start to finish. Here are some of the moments we captured:


Kicking off with lunch in Princeton with Tara Lazar, Kelly Calabrese, Marcie Colleen, and Tammi Sauer.

This was not at the conference itself, but we did stop traffic to take a photo of this mailbox.


The conference itself was too much fun to do much more than live in the moment. But here are some more memories:

Kami and Sudipta

Kami and Sudipta

Sudipta, Marcie, and Kelly

Sudipta, Marcie, and Kelly


Tammi Sauer’s fab workshop

Kami, Marie, and NJ RA Leeza

Kami, Marie, and NJ RA Leeza

Marcie and Sudipta's workshop

Marcie and Sudipta’s workshop


sudipta marcie blake photo

John Cusick's Keynote

John Cusick’s Keynote


Tara Lazar doing…we don’t know what

Post-conference tapas

Post-conference tapas

If you want to learn how to write children’s literature and hang out with some truly wonderful people, we can’t recommend this conference enough. Hope to see you next year!




SCBWI Springmingle 2015: Top Five Reasons You Should Go to Conferences

The Nerdy Chicks are members of The Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and one of the benefits of being in this organization is getting to attend great conferences on craft. Last weekend I attended Springmingle, a conference hosted by the Southern Breeze chapter of SCBWI. It is the first time I’ve been to this particular event, and it was fabulous! I think conferences are an important aspect in the life of any professional. Why? Here are my top five reasons you should consider going to conferences, whatever your profession:

20150314_2152391. Rejuvenation.  Getting away from your obligations at home and finding time to focus on your career brings new energy to your work! I left this conference with tons of ideas I never would have come up with had I spent the weekend alone in my office. Here I am with my pal Robyn Hood Black.

2015-03-15 21.33.402. Expert Advice. A great conference has great speakers and this one had a wonderful panel of experts. Tips from these fabulous faculty members follow.

20150314_0908543. Inspiration. Having people who excel in their careers share their stories is inspiring. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more inspirational speaker than author Meg Medina, pictured left, whose marketing talk has me rethinking my forward path.

2015-03-17 08.36.314. Connections. Making new friends among your colleagues is a consistent conference perk. Sometimes you make a connection with an industry professional that leads to a career advancement, but this should not be your sole purpose in attending an event. Usually the benefit of going to conferences is going to have a less direct impact, but a positive one nonetheless! I was thrilled to meet my Facebook freind Jen Swanson, pictured with me here, in person.

CAGfwexWgAARWAF5. FUN! Nothing is more energizing than having a chance to hang out with your tribe. These people choose to do what you do. They love what you love. In my case, this means they spend their days with words, books, and the creative spirit. And hey, when you get a bunch of creative spirits together, you’re bound to have a blast. We had fun Saturday night with a literary trivia game hosted by The Middle Grade Mafia. Members Kim Zachman and Lela Bridgers are pictured here with agent Karen Grencik. 

Some bits of conference wisdom:

Thank you Southern Breeze for including me in your tribe, and helping me celebrate the launch of The Boy Problem!

Thank you Southern Breeze for including me in your tribe, and helping me celebrate the launch of The Boy Problem!

Author Meg Medina reminded us not to edit ourselves too early, to focus on craft before marketing, and that the “most touching place you can travel is inside of you.”

Editor Neal Porter says he asks “WHERE’S THE STORY?” of all PB manuscripts.

Art Director Giuseppe Castellano said that illustrators should keep sending post cards featuring their art, but not to expect a response because he gets so many. Still, he never knows when one will really move him. He was, by the way, the most gregarious industry professional I’ve ever seen at a conference.

Agent Karen Grencik advised everyone to, “Practice your skill and get your work out there.”

Editor Elise Howard highlighted the differences between big publishing houses and small ones. She said she’d love to find a funny novel to fall in love with.

Art director Giuseppe Castellano, pictured here with poet Robyn Hood Black, hung out with attendees, answering questions and chatting well after the scheduled events ended!

Art director Giuseppe Castellano, pictured here with poet Robyn Hood Black, hung out with attendees, answering questions and chatting well after the scheduled events ended!

I always think it is valuable to know what these professionals do NOT want to see as well. So don’t send…

Karen Grencik a mass email query.

Giuseppe Castellano an email with a claim such as, “Your search for the perfect illustrator is over!”

Elise Howard a note telling her what moral or lesson your story holds. Also, spell her name right.

Neal Porter an email addressed to Mrs. Neal Porter! The panel agreed that incorrect spellings of names like these reveals that you don’t pay attention to detail, and are therefore not someone they would want to work with.

Springmingle was a great event with a fabulous faculty and put together by a host of talented volunteers from the Southern Breeze chapter of SCBWI. Another perk of the conference was that it was held in the Decatur Library and their wonderful staff could not have been more helpful and professional. If any of you are considering going to conferences, I advise you to take the plunge!

Marcie Colleen: How Rejection Leads to Stellar Revision

image (3)Today, we are happy to be hosting Marcie Colleen on Nerdy Chicks Rule. Author and Education Consultant, Marcie Colleen, is an expert on creating highly acclaimed Teacher’s Guides that align picture books and middle grade novels with the Common Core and other state mandated standards.  She is the Education Consultant for Picture Book Month and the the Curriculum Developer for Time Traveler Tours & Tales. Her work with Picture Book Month has been recognized by School Library Journal and the Children’s Book Council.  Visit her at

Scroll to the bottom of this post to learn about a great new online picture book class from Marcie and Sudipta!

How Rejection Leads to Stellar Revision

Rejection is inevitable.

Writers face rejection.  Often.

Sure we can try to avoid rejection.  Maybe slavishly follow trends. Maybe self-publish. Maybe give up.

After all, rejection hurts.  It stings.  We should try to avoid it at all costs, right?


In fact, we should welcome rejection. Allow rejection to become part of our journey.  Why?

There is value in rejection. Rejection can make us better writers.

Here are three ways rejection can lead to stellar—publishable—revisions.

Shine a light.

Ever receive a rejection and think “well, they clearly didn’t ‘get it’”? It happens. After all, writing (and reading) is subjective. But what happens if you receive rejection after rejection from editors or agents who didn’t seem to “get it”? If you are seeing a pattern, it’s time to revise. In fact, the unwritten rule is if two to three people give you the same feedback, definitely revise.

This happened to me while first subbing The Adventure of the Penguinaut. Several rejections referred to the manuscript as a “flightless bird who wants to fly” story.  Problem was, I never wanted to write a story about a penguin who wants to fly. As those rejections so clearly stated, this concept has been done. . .a lot.

So, what was the issue? Did all of those editors just not understand my story? Or was there something flawed in my plot that led them to believe my theme was different than intended?

Upon closer examination, I realized that I had mentioned flying five times within The Adventure of the Penguinaut. No wonder they all thought flying was important to my protagonist.  I then tightened, stream-lined, and focused my story more on Orville’s need for independence.  And the next time we went out on sub with The Adventure of the Penguinaut not one editor misunderstood it and it triumphantly sold to Scholastic.

“The drawer” is good.

Rejection is upsetting. If you are like me, a rejection can send you under the covers with chocolate, wine, and a box of tissues.

Rejection leaves me not wanting to look at the manuscript for some time. With a sick feeling in my stomach, I cram it into the proverbial drawer and tearfully wonder how long I will toil on this one silly story.

image (2)It took me over two years to write The Adventure of the Penguinaut and, during that period, I think it spent more time in the drawer than on my desktop. What a long and tedious process!

But, with each critique and each rejection, I needed time away. And even though I thought I was taking a break from the story, what I was really doing was allowing my brain, my heart, my inner muse to subconsciously think through the issues so that when I took the manuscript out of the drawer again, I knew what needed to be done. Sometimes it is less about finding your story than it is to let your story come to you.

Rejection slows down the process, for sure. But when I read my original draft of Penguinaut, horribly titled The Glimmering Iceberg in the Sky, I am thankful for those two years of development.  No way was my first draft ready for publication. Thank you to all of the gatekeepers who slowed me down and saved me the embarrassment of anyone reading The Glimmering Iceberg in the Sky.

Eye of the tiger.

Lastly, rejection grows us as writers. As novelist James Michener said, “Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries.”

Writers learn so much from rejection—about ourselves, our work, the market, the business. Rejection forces honest assessment. It makes us shine sunlight on our shortcomings so that we can address them. It forces us to read our words the way others see them, not in the perfect form that we as authors imagine them to be. Even authors who choose to self-publish should, from time to time, submit themselves to rejection. Writers who have never experienced rejection are no different than children who get awards for everything they do and are never told “no.”

Rejection pushes. Rejection sharpens. Rejection gives writers something to prove.

It’s time to learn to cherish rejection. It pains at first. It’s ok to grab the chocolate ice cream and a spoon and hide under the covers for a day or two.  But then comes the realization: this story just isn’t up to snuff. That is a powerful and freeing moment—freeing because, making a story better is entirely within our power. We can’t change publishing, but we can change the quality of our work.

Oh, and chocolate is absolutely still appropriate (check out “The Sweet Taste of Rejection”—a past post on this very idea )

(Also, for more advice in this vein, check out this post from Kami: How No Helps You Grow)

revision chickStarting on April 13, 2015, Marcie is going to be teaching a new online course in Picture Book Revision at Kidlit Writing School. This course will be co-taught by Sudipta and by Agent Susan Hawk of the Bent Agency as well.

Successful picture book authors know that the real writing starts after the first draft is written. This course will teach you the fundamentals of revising your manuscripts starting with Action, Beginning, and Character– and then, as with other courses in the A to Z series, literally taking you through the alphabet. Each topic will be explored in depth, both in the lessons and in the discussion forums and webinars. The writing exercises that are a part of the course are designed to help you apply the lessons to your own writing seamlessly and immediately. By the end of the course, you will never look at writing (or RE-writing) a picture book the same way again!

For more information and to register for this awesome course, please visit the registration page. If you sign up by March 27, you will get a FREE 20-minute manuscript review with either Marcie or Sudipta!


Happy World Read Aloud Day (Week)!

World Read Aloud Day this year was on March 4, 2015, but like many authors, the Nerdy Chicks have been celebrating by connecting with classrooms all week long. We read to kids in Ohio, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Texas, California, and many, many more! Here are some of the photos from our #WRAD15 celebrations!

skype on computerWRAD15 7 Kami SkypeWRAD15 6 skype3 WRAD15 5WRAD15 4 WRAD15 3 WRAD 15 2 WRAD15 1Skype with KKinard