Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Honing Heart with Lauren Kerstein


by Lauren Heller Kerstein


When I critique, I often find myself helping authors hone in on the heart and create an emotional arc that is both resonant and relatable. We want to make our readers FEEL. 

Here are a few tips to help your readers FEEL all the feels:

PITCH IT: Write a pitch. What is the heart of your story? What is your character’s goal? What is your goal in writing this particular story? What do you want your readers to walk away with? I love this quote from Jodi Picoult’s latest novel: The Book of Two Ways: “Art isn’t what you see. It’s what you remember.” What do you want your readers to remember long after they’ve read your book?

ZOOM IN: Zoom in on emotional moments so that you can create scenes that your readers feel part of. We want them to live, breathe, and feel the moment. For example, in my latest book: Home for a While (Illustrated by Natalia Moore/Magination Press), I wanted readers to FEEL Calvin’s uncertainty. Instead of saying Calvin felt uncertain, I highlighted his uncertainty by zooming in.

“Maggie?” Calvin asked, his voice gruff.

“Why do you want to hug me, anyway?”

ACTIVE LANGUAGE: Use active language to draw your readers into the emotional arc. In Home for a While, I used active language to draw my readers into Calvin’s experience. For example: “His hands shook as he waited for Maggie’s reaction.” 

The use of active language adds more resonance to the moment, and pulls the reader into the emotional arc.

CREATE SPACE FOR MIXED EMOTIONS: Feelings aren’t straightforward. They are often a mixed up and muddled mess. Create space for mixed emotions in your manuscript by showing your character’s physical reactions, highlighting your character’s internal experience, and leaving lots of white space for the illustrator.

PACING: Pacing plays a huge role in the emotional arc and in the heart of your manuscript. Pacing moves the plot forward, and highlights conflict, motivation, stakes, resonance, and intensity of emotion. Use pacing to your advantage.

These are just a few of the tools you can use to hone in on your heart and amplify your emotional arc. You can find additional tips in this blog post I wrote a couple of years ago.

As I always say, we must feel, write, and risk as creators. 

The more you feel…

The more risks you take with your writing... 

The more heart and emotion will shine through.

Buy Home for a While HERE.

March's RYS Guest Gurus - Callie and Lynne Marie


at Spork Books, a Division of Clear Fork Media (

1. What do you LOVE about children’s books?

I love how Children’s books open the door to a whole new world, and it gives us an insight into something we might not get to experience in real life.

2. What brought you to children’s books? 

I had published a couple of YA books when I started working on my first PB. I loved it so much that I realized I wanted to make it the main focus of my company moving forward.


3. What do you look for in a project to acquire for Spork?

I want something that is unique that I am not likely to see a similar project in another publishing house’s catalog. I want to open up the world even more for children.


4. What drew you to your favorite Spork books? 

All of my favorite projects have been fun because of the subject matter, the creativity of the illustrator, and the relationship with the author. I always love when you know the story has great structure and is a well put together book. 


5. What is a common issue with the submissions you receive?

Usually they have a lot of unnecessary words or the story structure isn’t strong all the way through.


6. Please share a submission tip with our Members. 

Do a little research before submitting. Don’t address your query letter to “To whom this may concern” or to the wrong person.


7. Please share a revision Tip for our Members. 

If an editor ask for a revision, don’t revise it right then and send it back the same day. Take some time to think about the revisions and then send back in a timely manner.


8. Name a subject you would like to see in your in-box. 

I would like to see stories with an agricultural or slice of life spin.


9. Name something to avoid sending to your in-box. 

I am currently not looking for any cute animals does cute thing books.


10. Share a fun fact about YOU! 

Here are 10 random facts about me:

1) I was featured on the tv show Texas Country Reporter in 1999 for my work with the Bobwhite Brigade.

2) I teach art classes to six 7-12 year old one afternoon a week.

3) I'm terribly addicted to Dr. Pepper.

4) I adore Classic Movies. My favorite one is Breakfast at Tiffany's

5) My minor was German in College. I was inspired to learn it because my Grandmother was a first generation American and spoke German when I was little.

6) I was published for the first time when I was in 4th grade. It was a Poem called "I am Me"

7) I was Youth Conservationist of the Year for Texas in 1998

8) I'm the 4th generation in my family to own a community Newspaper

9) I grew up on a cotton farm that has been in my family for over 100 years.

10) I was diagnosed with cancer in 2008 and then again in 2019 and just recently celebrated 6 months cancer free!

CONGRATULATIONS, DEAR CALLIE -- You are an Inspiration to us ALL!  


And now, here's:


1. What do you LOVE about children’s books?

I love the story, the art, the imagination, the varied experiences they portray and that they can take you away - from a bad day, a rainy day, a boring summer, or anything that limits your world and/or experience at a particular time. 


2. What brought you to children’s books? 

I had wanted to be an Author since I opened my first Scholastic Book Club flyer, but I took a long path and  experienced many other things before coming here. I do think that those experiences helped shape my worldview and filled my writing well. Formerly, I was a paralegal, a paid book reviewer of fiction books, and dabbled in romantic comedy writing and screen writing before fully committing to children’s books. 


3. What do you look for in a project to acquire for Dancing Flamingo?

I am looking for anything that’s a celebration of life and basically touches upon at least one of these concepts in the Dancing Flamingo tagline: A Celebration of Art and Culture, Kindness and Curiosity. That’s a wide net, but it gives an idea :) 



It was a Goldilocks retelling which spoke to my love of folklore fables and fairytales, and since I have read them all for my pre-publication research for Moldilocks, I knew it was fresh and different. Besides being a celebration of folktales, it also demonstrated curiosity and kindness. And of course, it inspired really wonderful art! 


5. What is a common issue with the submissions you receive?

To be honest, there are many, and all very common, including: Not a child-accessible main character, not a kid-friendly concept, problem or theme, no story structure, no cohesiveness, and a resolution that’s not satisfying. Also that the main character does not have agency over the story and/or solve the story problem and that the plot does not move forward. It’s clear that many who write picture books are not actively reading and study picture books to see what has been done, what hasn’t been done, what works and how it works. It’s the reason behind starting the Tinker and Talk Book Chat on Sundays 6:00 PM EST. So that we all have access to picture books and are able to discuss and learn from them. 


6. Please share a submission tip with our Members. 

Publishing is an industry and being a writer is a profession. Both should be respected. Read the submission guidelines (and follow them of course), and submit only your very best, polished work. If you don’t it will be a no and you will have likely missed an opportunity for the manuscript to sell, had it been fully-formed. 


7. Please share a revision Tip for our Members. 

Each time you review your manuscript look at one thing that I had on my list of submission problems above. Then repeat with another aspect. It’s important to have checks and balances and make certain you focus on one thing at a time and revise thoroughly and effectively, even if it means re-visioning your original idea. If you do, when you are done, your manuscript will sing. 


8. Name a subject you would like to see in your in-box. 

Oh, there’s so much I love and want to see! However, I would love something that combines animals and culture. 


9. Name something to avoid sending to your in-box. 

Anything that is poorly written or is unimaginative and dry. 


10. Share fun facts about YOU! 

I owned Hedgehogs and Spike is inspired by my first one -- Apollo Nike (nicknamed Spiky Nike).  [Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten].  My second Spike book [Hedgehog’s 100th Day of School ] was inspired by my daughter’s 100th day of school project. Like Raffi [The Star in the Christmas Play], I once performed in a nativity pageant. Like Moldilocks [Moldilocks and the 3 Scares], I was adopted and grew up loving shows like The Addams Family (Thing was adopted) and The Monsters (the niece was adopted) and of course, anything with Super Heroes. I love travel and have been a Travel Agent with Pixie Vacations for many years [Let’s Eat! Mealtime Around the World]. 

But to mirror Callie, here are some fun facts about ME:

1.     I was born in Brooklyn and am a true New Yorker, but I was always drawn to Boston and later found out my birth family was from there.

2.     The first place I flew alone as a child of 12, was Humble, Texas - where our bus got cornered by a long horn steer!

3.     I was adopted and grew up thinking my parents were dead, but found and met my Birth Mother and Father both at 26 years old.

4.     I have two half brothers who I never go to meet because they died of Duchenne's Muscular Dystrophy. Oddly, before I even knew of them, I was active in Special Olympics and a big fan of Jerry Lewis' Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy.

5.    When I was 18 -21 my ex-boyfriend was a Music Producer and I got to meet and hang out with many new wave bands, like Duran Duran, Power Station, the Go Gos and so many more!

6.     Me and one of my besties tried one of those Fish Pedicures in Mexico and lived to tell about it.

7.    I have been to Disney World many, many times, as well as Disneyland and Euro Disney. The other parks are on my list :)

8.     I have a morbid fascination with graves and have been to many, many famous graves / monuments all over the world to pay tribute, including Princess Diana, Claude Monet, Molly Brown, and many other Titanic associated people (including the Mass Graves at Halifax), William Wallace, Alexander Graham Bell, St. Patrick and many US Presidents - to name just a small few.

9.     I love history and folklore of all countries and studied both the Salem Witchcraft Trials, The Holocaust in Children's Literature in School and Folklore and Fairy Tales (as well as Myths) in College.

10.     I've watched over 88 K-Dramas so far (Korean Dramas) and am planning a trip to Korean in 2022.

Bonus: My dog Anakin is the second Belgian Schipperke I owned. Dante was the first, who we got when my son was only 6.


Also is there anything in particular you want or don't want to give rating and

feedback on?

I can pretty much rise to the challenge of any manner of stories as I’ve written Fiction and Non-fiction and also write in rhyme, but at this time, I prefer not to rate synopses or novels. 

Feel Free to Check Out First Pages with Callie and Lynne Marie


We look forward to helping you move forward on your journey! 



Monday, March 1, 2021



March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb or vice versa, depending on which story it chooses to tell. This month, the Rate Your Story Judges are here to tell their advice on being a lion or lamb or having the Luck of the Irish. 

How do you approach your writing? Perhaps this post will give you some ideas of when to be a lion, and when to be a lamb. Enjoy - and may the luck of the Irish be with you on your journey. 

Katie Frawley, Author of Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places

I always try to be a lion with revisions and a lamb with taking feedback. When my critique partners offer their thoughts on my work, I listen and digest. I try not to get defensive or argumentative. And then I jump in like a lion when it's time to revise. No fear! Full strength! Totally willing to kill my darlings like adorable little gazelle on the grassland! 

Lydia Lukidis, Author of No Bears Allowed 

I approached my journey to publication as a lamb in the beginning, who then grew into a lion. I started out deep in research, practice, and reading. I had a lot of self-doubt as a writer and had to learn to tame that voice, but in the beginning of my career, I was definitely apprehensive about subbing and querying, and even the quality of my writing. Then as the years rolled by, I stood firmer in my experience and became a lion. Fearless, I queried and subbed for years. Rejection letters would pile up, but I didn't let that drag me down. I learned to get back up, and continued learning through my mistakes. After knocking on many (many!) doors, some opened, and I am in gratitude.

Lynne Marie, Author of Moldilocks and the Three Scares.

I approached my journey to publication as both a lion and lamb. Like a lion, I aggressively took all college courses available, and attended SCBWI Conferences for years on local, multi-state, home state, national and international levels, as well as read all the books on craft I could get my hands on. However, when it came to submitting, I was more like a lamb -- I wasn't quick to submit, and would make triple certain my story was ready for the targeted publisher. As a result, even if I didn't make a sale, I got a personal rejection and got close to selling many times. I honestly credit that to...waiting until the time and the manuscript was right. But after I sold a project, I had to be a lion again -- this time with promotion.

Mary Boone, Author of the forthcoming Bugs for Breakfast.

Luck has come my way so many times. I love nonfiction stories, especially those that focus on little-known facts, events, or people. In an effort to find those stories, I sift through so, so, so many academic journals, old diaries, speeches, photos, and books. A lot of it produces nothing. But, when I latch onto a nugget that can be formed into a story, I feel like the luckiest person ever! It’s like I’ve found something truly amazing and I can’t wait to share it with everyone else.

Lamb or lion? There's a time for each. Sometimes, it's right to be a Lamb, as when there's a story that intrigues you, but, after research and consideration, you realize that it's just not your story to tell. That's a time to step back and defer to another (or, if you want to be a Lion about it, steer an appropriate writer toward the idea). Sometimes, though, a story finds you, but you need to find the courage to take it on--maybe the research is difficult, or the topic is challenging, or you're reluctant to bare your soul as the topic requires. That's when it's time to put your Lion face on. I really wasn't sure that the world was ready for a picture book about the First Amendment, but the more I worked on it, the more I knew I wanted to bring an appreciation of these fundamental freedoms to young readers. I persisted through a ton of rejections, including a revise-resubmit-rejection. I kept revising it and changing the format to respond to editors' concerns, until it all came together. ("Free for You and Me" was published as the pandemic started, in March 2020, so promoting it has also required a bit of creative Lion-izing.)

Lauren H. Kerstein, author of Home for a While

I've always adopted the courage of a lion as I push forward. I know I must take advantage of both opportunities to learn and grow as a writer, and to market my work. I must proceed with fierce determination. And yet, I must also approach this field like a lamb. I must be gentle with myself, open to feedback, and hesitant to proceed if a manuscript really isn't ready. I think the lion and the lamb are both inherently part of my writing journey.

Lori Degman, author of Cock-a-Doodle Oops. I’ve had the courage of a lion when I’ve taken on things I’m afraid to do, like school visits, bookstore events, presenting at conferences; reading my books on video . . . The first few times I’ve done each of these things, I was more lamb-ish but, as I gained confidence, I became more like my Newfie and just plowed right through it. Still, every time I’m lion-ish and schedule an event, my inner lamb asks, “Why in the world did you do that?!”