Turbo Monkey Tales is a group blog focusing on the craft, production, marketing and consumption of Children's Literature. We are illustrators, writers, animators and media mongrels. We are readers! We are published, unpublished and self-published; agented and searching, and 100% dedicated to our Kid Lit journey, no matter where we are on the path. Join our Tribe and grab a vine. The more the merrier!

Thursday, August 30, 2012


School has just started here in Virginia, and like many teachers, I’ve been asking my students what they did this summer. So it seemed appropriate to write about my summer, and how I learned the value of Not-Writing.

My summer has been framed by two Highlights workshops with the fabulous Patti Gauch: one in May, the other this October. Between May and October, I was supposed to write the entire first draft of a new story. 

No worries, right? 

I'm a huge proponent of the Butt in Chair school of writing: You write whether you feel like it or not. You hope the muse shows up, but if she doesn't, you don't sit at your desk, weeping softly and consuming large amounts of ice cream. You write. Finally, the muse feels so left out that she actually shows up. 

Imagine my surprise when I discovered how well I wrote when… I didn’t write. Here's what happened:

Monday, August 27, 2012

Courage, Strength Welcome Here

Greetings, monkeys—turbo and otherwise! Marilyn here. One of my favorite sayings is, “Be strong and courageous.” Whenever I feel discouraged, that message picks me up, gives me a cold drink, and nudges me forward. Writers and artists need strength and courage from time to time. When you're low, here are a few ways to find them.

Be strong in listening to your muse. I don’t mean to wait for the muse in order to create, because you know as well as I that if we did, very little would get done. What I mean is that we all get our inspiration from somewhere, and it’s up to us to find where it lives. It might be a type of music, or gorgeous writing or painting at a level you want to be creating. Perhaps meditation, candlelight, a particular scent, being in nature, or yoga is your muse. Your children, your romantic relationship, or your faith might open the channel to your creative self. When it does, spend some time with it. The muse is always speaking, but do we always listen?

Be strong in saying No, and courageous in saying Yes. When we know what we do and don't want, it’s easier to say No kindly and without apology. Clearing your schedule, your assignment list, and your life of tasks that aren’t a good fit allows two things: (1) others who are better-suited and -abled get the opportunity to say Yes to them, and (2) you have the space to say Yes to those things that are the best fit.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Why Slog When You Can Collage?

Not long ago I had a conversation with a writer friend (I’m looking at you, Heather Petty) about the book I’m currently revising. Okay, mostly it was me despairing about my ongoing revisions and her listening patiently. And then she said this:
“If you are slogging through the writing, it will read like slog. You need to find the fun again.”
A few weeks later I stumbled across a post on author Jennifer Crusie's blog in which she described using collage to brainstorm her books.  

     As a costume designer, part of my process included creating a concept board (also known as a mood board, inspiration board or design board)- a collage of images and fabrics that could be used to communicate my design ideas/concept to the rest of the production team. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Love Thing: Married to the Writing Life

Our Craig Lew recently threw out the question, “What do you know about writing now that you didn’t two years ago?” 

Deep Thought
Two years ago, I think I saw more of the DATING aspects of writing. I had “put myself out there” and lucked upon critique partners who could see past the morning breath of one another’s first drafts to the inner beauty, and I was elated (a laughable understatement) to have just signed with an agent whose heart went pitter-pat for the same things mine did. Ah, bliss. Days of “this is what I have waited my whole life for” ensued.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What's your style? by Hazel Mitchell

I'm pretty much surrounded by writers here on Turbo Monkey Tales, so choosing the first topic for my first blog post here has been a little perplexing. Should I try to address you writer folk out there, or stick to my knowledge base, illustration? Or try and talk about illustration and writing and how they work together ... oof! I put the kettle on and had a cup of tea. (It's what the British do when they have to solve a problem - it's what the Brits do at any given time really!)

And while the tea was mashing (Yorkshire speak for brewing) I thought of the first question that most beginning children's illustrators are burning to know the answer to:


and the second question


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Giveaway Wrapup!

The winners of the following prizes are:

Monkey Change Purses:  Linda Tate, Roberta Gallagher Rivera and Kevin Barry

Fused Glass Necklaces:  Janis Seminara and Paula Sheen

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Monkey Meet & Greet

In October of 2010, eight people arrived in Virginia City, NV to take their places in the SCBWI Nevada Mentorship Program. Little did we know, we would be making such fine monkey friends and would go on to support, tease, love and critique each other into a solid monkey tribe. Below are some snippets of how we eight mentees became Turbo Monkeys.

The first Turbo Monkey I met was Craig Lew. Arriving at Reno airport for the 2010-2011 SCBWI Nevada Mentor Programme I was told to look out for a six foot Chinese Cowboy who would be my transport. I thought they were joking! Then it was off to Virginia City, a haunted hospital and the rest is history. It was a fantabulous time and I'm privileged to know and be associated with this creative bunch of TURBO MONKEYS! They say the best thing about the Kidlit World is the people - and I agree. I'm a children's illustrator and writer and you can see more of my work and books at www.hazelmitchell.com.

It was a dark and stormy night, well, actually no...it wasn’t. It was rather sunny and cool. But it should have been dark and stormy because Hazel and I were making our way to the historic cemetery in Virginia City. After a few wrong turns, we found the proper road and that’s where we stopped to chat with Messy McGuire and Squeaky Voice AKA Sarah and Amy. Later that night we went out for drinks at the Palace and on the return Sarah and Amy became my window puppets, as I had an SUV full of people and they got stuck in the hatchback.

These guys totally thought I worked in the kitchen—which I did happily as a member of Team Nevada SCBWI—but little did they know it was a cover. As I plotted crock pot vittles and revised the dirty dishes, I spied in on scandalous, chocolate-infused conversations between writers, editors, and agents. When I wasn’t a fly on the wall, I poured through my work-in-progress like my literary life depended on it. I was intent on handing pages over after one last peek to agent extraordinaire Tracey Adams that weekend. I probably missed out on great writer camaraderie with my nose stuck in my lap top, though I did make a harrowing midnight run to the cemetery with some frighteningly cool folks (YA Muses and Naomi Canale shout out!). To think—I nearly missed getting to really know the future monkey crew. That would have been tragic as these monkeys have some seriously great tales (and hearts)...not to mention how they’re truly gracious to the kitchen staff (always a good sign when shopping for future partners).

I have so many fantastic memories of my monkeys. It’s hard to believe I’ve only known them a couple years. I remember…seeing Hazel and Craig in the lobby of the hotel our first mentorship weekend and thinking they were a nice, married couple from England. Rooming with Sarah and the hours and hours of serious ab-crunch giggling. Whispering conspiratorially with Kristen, so many times, because there’s something about Kristen that makes you want to conspire. Realizing Julie and I shared a similar story theme and talking away a lazy afternoon about the inspirations for them. Splitting a bottle of wine, snuggled into a couch with Ellen in LA. Halfway paying attention to everything Marilyn says because I’m always blown away by her amazing, effortless elegance. But the best thing is knowing these wonderful people will be in my life for years to come. Because we’re family…of the monkey variety.

As I drove over the mountain into Virginia City I had no idea I was about to meet seven people who would become my Turbo Monkey tribe. Amy, a Steel Magnolia whose Southern charm more than makes up for the fact that she doesn't like chocolate. Cowboy Craig, who I bonded with over tales of our adventures in Hollywood. Ellen, Fellow California Girl, who shares my love of history. Hazel, the Wacky Brit, who can talk to anyone, anywhere and make them laugh. Julie, Provider of Tasty Treats, who is as warm as a fresh baked cookie and wickedly funny. Marilyn, my Mentee Sis, whose writing is as lovely and magical as she is. And Sarah, Fellow Tall Person, who makes me believe that if she were my teacher, math might actually be fun. Since our first meeting, in the wonderfully atmospheric St. Mary's Art Center, they've become much more than my fellow mentees. They're my support network, my cheerleaders, my inspiration, my friends. I'm bananas about all of them.

When I arrived at St. Mary's Art Center in Virginia City, I was very nervous. I remember opening the front door and stepping into the carpeted foyer. Boisterous voices came from down the hall. I followed them and found myself in a sunny kitchen. "Hello," said a voice in an English accent. And so I met Hazel, a talented illustrator who loves horses as much as me . . . which is a lot! Sarah was there, my fellow teacher. Sarah managed to find a bakery in Virginia City that had chocolate croissants . . . yum! I remember Craig and his joking and how he had us laughing tears. He wore cowboy boots, too. Halloween was around the corner and Marilyn won the Scary Story contest. Not only did she tell an eerie story, but I learned that she is quite the tap-dancer. (No, she didn't dance while she read her story!) Kristen, my Fellow California Monkey, soft-spoken and funny, took my picture while I was taking hers. Dueling cameras. One morning, I ran into Amy as she was going to visit the Old Catholic Church. We both have an interest in old cities, so I guess she is a Time Traveler, too. Once during the weekend, when I felt overwhelmed and unsure, Julie offered me some scrumptious cookies which made my day. I will never forget her kindness. So now you know about me and my Monkey Friends, the most special of friends!

Two years ago this October, I climbed the steps of St. Mary's Art Center in Virginia City, Nevada, and tried to hide my shaky legs. Not because I was afraid of the ghost that was rumored to haunt the former hospital, but because I knew hardly a soul among the 30 or so people inside. I'm so timid about meeting new people that normally I might have turned around and gone back to my hotel room. But that day, my reason for being there--having been accepted into the renowned Mentor Program sponsored by the Nevada chapter of SCBWI--propelled me up the steps and into the center. For so many reasons, those were some of the most important steps I'd have ever taken, all because of the people gathering inside--an amazing group of talented writers and artists and editors and teachers who were there because of their mutual love of children's literature. My people! My tribe! And, though I didn't know it at the time, my monkeys!
I had actually met Kristen recently through email, because she and I were two of the three mentees who shared the same mentor, the amazing Emma Dryden, and soon we called ourselves "Team Emma!" Once we met in person, right away I loved her intelligence, her wry wit, her family stories, and the way her nose sometimes crinkles when she talks. Later during our mentorship, I learned what a fantastically imaginative writer she is. Oh, and she's the only person I've ever been sorbeted with.
The next person I remember meeting was Craig. He was quite a sight in his red cowboy boots and cowboy hat (yes, Craig?) during our group introductions. Later I had the pleasure of sitting at his end of the table during lunch and hearing about his adventures in Hollywood. I think Craig is a bigwig there, but I don't want to sound like a starstruck tourist by asking. So, I'll just stay cool and keep my ears open. Craig is easygoing, has the quickest wit south of Idaho, and a huge heart. And he writes sharply drawn, good-creepy fiction and graphic novels that are scary enough to make you want to read through your fingers.
Next, I remember meeting Sarah during the introductions. The first thing you notice about Sarah is that she looks like she stepped out of a Renaissance painting. And then you find out she's a high school math teacher, and then you remember that she's also a writer. And then you discover that she's also super nice! When I read her beautiful fantasy prose for the first time, it fit its creator perfectly. You can imagine Sarah sitting in a castle turret wearing a velvet and satin gown (and a crown), writing beneath a shaft of sunlight.
Then, Hazel introduced herself as The Wacky Brit, and right away I loved her too. Hazel is warm and funny and oh-so-clever, and even a little naughty--but in a proper British/Maine sort of way. She creates illustrations with heart and soul and whimsy. Later during that weekend, I also sat with her at lunch (maybe the same lunch with Craig) and watched her toss her scarf behind her shoulder as if she were about the take the reins of her horse before setting off for a country ride. Instead, she took hold of a story. I don't remember exactly what story she was telling, but I was enthralled by the way she told it. In fact, she might have been carrying on two conversations at once. Hazel can pull that off because she's both writer AND illustrator!
Next, I remember meeting Julie, who sat a little behind me. When I turned to see the person from whose mouth the gentle voice was coming, I was struck by her dimples, her dark eyes, and her shockingly beautiful hair. Julie is not only a beautiful writer with deep love for her characters and her readers, she's also a teacher of profoundly gifted students. At first I wondered if she ever felt intimidated by her students, but as I got to know Julie better and learned how smart and kind she is, and how well she knows and respects the audience she writes for, I realized that her students must know what a gift she is to them.
The first weekend of the mentor program was a bit of a blur, and sadly for me, I didn't get to know Amy and Ellen until we had all said good-bye for six months and began talking on Facebook as a group. And then I wondered how I could have missed meeting Amy, because she IS the quickest wit in all North America--maybe on all continents. How do you keep up with Amy? You don't--you just sit back and watch her talk...er, type. Amy is also an architect specializing in green design, and a devoted mom. When we all returned to Virginia City in April, I knew who Amy was, and I gave her a big, warm hug on the front porch. It was a treat to know her. Amy's writing is just like she is--smart, clever, hip, warm--and it's filled with characters that stick with you. She's our uber-organizer, keeping our group on track and on schedule.
And, last but not least is Ellen, whom I got to know best also when we returned in April. During lunch one day, Ellen and I discovered that (1) we both lived in Northern California, (2) were both thinking of going to the SCBWI national conference in LA that summer (2011), and (3) both hated to fly. So, we cooked up the idea to drive together to LA and be roomies. It was sort of a dare. Well, we ended up not driving together (I flew), but we did room together, and it was so much fun! Ellen is smart and fun and deep. Her writing is beautifully detailed and descriptive, and she writes equally confidently in a contemporary novel as in an historical. (Though I suspect that her favorite place to be is far in the past.)
Now that you understand why I love the monkeys, is there any wonder that I jumped at the chance to be in a critique group with them? I had been looking for a group of writers just like us for several months, and was blessed the day they swung into my life.

I got to know some of the Monkeys at the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program, and didn't have a chance to really know others until we had more time at the 2011 LA SCBWI.
I met Amy the night before the Nevada SCBWI program started. After five minutes with her, I figured that the program was going to be just fine. I blame Amy for the sleep deprivation I suffered those weekends. I'd have gotten much more rest if she hadn't been so interesting or funny.
Hazel was the person you see in a room and want to talk to. She's just that fun. I've been fortunate enough to be able to talk with her ever since. We once shared a flight into Reno and chattered the entire time. The poor man at the window seat put in his earplugs and requested a drink. Hazel and I kept talking.
It didn't take too many conversations to discover that being with Craig was like drinking Red Bull. He's fast, wicked funny, and absolutely capable of saying just the right thing at the right time. Also, he knows EVERYONE. He's the best name-dropper I've ever met.
I heard Julie's query read aloud at the Nevada program. If not for her amazing smile and warmth, I would have been too intimidated to talk to her. I got to know her better at the SCBWI conference in LA. I remember wondering how such a talented writer could make me feel that I was smart and funny as well.
Some of my first memories of Kristen involved carpooling in Nevada. She made the miles slip away, or at least made us laugh so hard we didn't notice the drive. And she's tall enough to look me in the eye and then tell me exactly what I should do with my manuscript.
Ellen is my fellow teacher Monkey. My favorite memory with her was sharing a lunch in LA. We discussed teaching and writing, and tried to act casual when we spotted a celebrity. She gives incredible crits, and sent me a box full of curriculum when I announced I'd be teaching Creative Writing.
Marilyn never told me that she had been nominated for the Sue Alexander Award at the LA SCBWI (which she won!). She has such lovely, insightful writing and she's so humble that you just might miss that, and her mad tapdancing skills.
How lucky am I to have such a terrific Monkey Tribe?

And now for YOU!!  Let us know about you, your favorite fellow monkey or your amazing monkey crit crew.  Share the love--share the vines!  Welcome to the jungle!

The Turbo Monkeys will be posting twice a week so be sure to check back Mondays and Thursdays to check out the chatter in the kid lit jungle. We'll kick off our first official blog post at 8 am, Monday August 13th with a virtual launch party and lots of giveaways!!