Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 10, 2015

Illustrator Saturday – Phyllis Saroff


Phyllis Saroff is a freelance illustrator working in Maryland. She does book illustration, natural science and editorial pieces. Her scientific artwork is featured in wayside signs and educational materials across the country. Clients include, the United States Department of the Interior, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service and the Fairfax County Park Authority in Virginia.

Book publishers she has worked with creating non fiction children’s book illustration are Charlesbridge, Arbordale and Lerner Publishing. Phyllis created historic fictional illustrations for Bunker Hill Publishing in a book featuring the artist William Morris. She has worked with Carus Publishing creating illustrations for children’s magazines. Other children’s magazine clients include Highlights Magazine.

The following links are to some of the books Phyllis has illustrated.

Other clients include the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D. C., the Mid Atlantic Car Wash Association, the Annapolis Maritime Museum and the Chesapeake Bay Program.

Phyllis has a Masters of Fine Art from The Academy of Art University. She also has a Bachelor of Fine Art from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Here is Phyllis explaining her process:


My process working digitally is always changing since it is a relatively new medium for me. I use the same basics used in traditional painting such as blocking in shadow masses first, and working general to specific. I make sure all my values are determined in the rough stage and I keep that drawing handy to refer to and to maintain that value pattern. Color can be distracting and I want to be sure the value pattern is the same as my rough. Sometimes I use traditional textures and combine that with digital painting. The effect is often fun and I experiment with that frequently.

process lionFour_thumbs2

A good example of this is the cover illustration for my recent book with Arbordale Publishing. I like to give the client several samples to choose from and I have to be happy to do all them.  Luckily, they picked number four – the best one. Looking at these now I can see most of my ideas were way too busy.

process B&WSounds_cover_illustrator_blog

I refine the drawing to a tight rough and in this case I started rendering the lion first. He was the focal point and whatever came after him needed to harmonize with his colors and texture. You can see the water color texture I used on a separate layer, and I adjusted the colors using the sliders. I wanted a small bit of cool colors to be relief from all the warm colors of the lion and and the grass colors I was seeing in my mind. Those cool colors had yellow in them so they were sure to harmonize with the golds and browns. I also knew there would be a mix of warm greens in the grass, so greens were also desirable in that watercolor tidbit. I was reminded of the multitudes of grass color by looking out my window, and recalling my landscape class from my masters program. I also used a warm watercolor texture under the lion’s fur to get a good fuzzy look and avoid the slick look of digital painting.

Process finalSounds_cover_rough_illustrators_blog

I went through the same process with the banner for the type and the grass. I positively love how they created the typography, and the collaboration is something I love about illustration work. I love the wonderful surprises that other skilled artists bring to a project.

The Fairfax County Virginia Park Authority poster beginning sketch.


The Fairfax County Virginia Park Authority poster is a good example of the working process when there is a large amount of information in an image. I also had to show the clients, who were all scientists how the process worked.


So, I gave them the sample of the shipwrecked Mariner from the Just So Story by Rudyard Kipling. This helped them understand how we were going to work together to manage a large project with lots of requirements.


They gave me a list of species and I indicated many of them in my initial drawings so the scientists could understand my scribbles. Communication and a good client relationship is as important as a stunning illustration.

Were you commissioned to paint that guitar for someone or do you play guitar and painted it for you? Plus, did you have to use a special paint to create such a stunning work of art?
I participated in an auction fundraiser at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Paul Reed Smith Guitars provided the instruments, artists paint them and there is an auction/concert event that raises money. (That year Santana played!)
guitar roughThe rough drawing was done in photoshop. The value pattern is established in the rough, and I printed this to refer to as I worked.
I scuffed the surface of the guitar with light sandpaper, gessoed it, and used acrylic paint. I then gave it a layer of clear coat polyurethane.
I used the acrylic like water color for the background textures that I like so much. I had just completed illustrating a book about William Morris, so I had his floral patterns still running through my mind.
I made up my own that can be seen in the close up detail.

gitar art

Picture of finished quitar.


Two book covers.


How long have you been illustrating?

I have been illustrating since 1983 when I graduated from VCU.

gorgeous bird

What was the first thing you painted where someone paid you for your work?

I was paid for a series of black and white pencil drawings showing how to take a fish hook out of a hand. The magazine was Virginia Wildlife.


What made you choose to get your BFA from the Virginia Commonwealth University?

I knew VCU was a good school and it was close to home.


What did you study there?

I was a visual communications major with an illustration track.


Did you go right from there to getting your MFA at The Academy of Art University?

No, I went back to get my graduate degree after nearly thirty years. I think going back after all the experience I had at living and illustrating was a good decision. I brought a lot to the program and I got a lot out of it.

baby and cat

What did you study at The Academy of Art University?

I was a traditional illustration student. I also benefited from all the core classes I had to take. There were many formal classes that filled in what I didn’t get as an undergraduate, and that was good. I think no one program has it all, there are bound to be gaps.

bird basket

I am assuming that it is the one in San Francisco, right. Did you find the culture different on the West Coast?

I was an online student. Again, my age and experience was helpful. I was working and taking care of elderly parents at the same time, so it was good I knew how to manage time and handle stress.


Do you feel College helped develop your style?

Yes, my style is constantly evolving as anyone’s is. The input and critique from a school environment always pushes someone out of their regular solutions. It also introduced me to many other artists and opened my mind to different ways of working.


What type of work did you do after you got out of school?

I do a lot of children’s illustration and natural science illustration. I do a small amount of editorial and this has been the same pattern for me since I graduated from VCU in 1983.

double page spread

Did the college you attended help you get work when you graduated?

My graduate degree helped me get work because my work improved and I had to take a business and marketing class. That was missing as an undergrad and it was very helpful.


Have you seen your work change since you left school?

I got my masters in 2013 and my work is better in many ways. It is more professional and I find more dynamic ways of solving a problem. I also got on the digital band wagon which is something I was ignorant about before my masters program. I knew I had to learn to incorporate new tools or get left behind.


When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

I sent Cricket magazine a promotional package in the late 1990’s because I looked through the magazine and thought, “I could do that.” I got an assignment to illustrate a poem. But I think I always wanted to illustrate for children, ever since age seven when I created my own illustrated books of stapled paper to give to my mother.


What was your first book you had published?

Mary Anning, Fossil Hunter with Carolrhoda Books. The editor found my website and they gave me an assignment to illustrate a book about Mary Anning. That was pure luck. I didn’t even market to them.

owl in boat 

How did that contract come about?

The editor found my website and they gave me an assignment to illustrate a book about Mary Anning, a fossil hunter, based on an illustration of mine that had bones in it!

painted iguana

Did you do other types of illustrating before you got the book contract?

I did illustrations for Virginia Wildlife Magazine,Cricket, World Wildlife fund, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation before my first book contract. The illustration that got me that first book assignment was a self created piece about hip dysplasia in dogs. I made it up, and the editor liked the bones.


What steered you toward specializing in educational and natural science book illustrations?

Natural science illustration is something I am good at. I grew up in a scientific household, we had a microscope on the kitchen table. I thought all kitchens had one. We had all kinds of creatures in an out of the house and drawing the natural world came easily to me.


How many picture books have your illustrated?

I think fourteen. I did a whole series of non-fiction books with Lerner, but I count that as one job.

mountain animal

What do you consider to be your biggest success?

That is a hard question. I am proud of doing the Cherry Blossom Festival for Washington DC. I think my latest book “Sounds of the Savanna” with Arbordale is a success.

Ranger Rick Magizein squirrels500

Do you illustrate full time?

Yes, I work as an artist full time.


Do you have any desire to write and illustrate your own picture book?

Yes, I do have some ideas for books. I’ll need to find time to write them up and present them to a publisher. My ideas have to do with serious themes, and the challenge is presenting that to children in an appropriate way.

all together

I see you are represented by Wendy Lynn & Co.? How and when did the two of you connect? How long have you been working together?

I meet a woman at Jury Duty who said she had a friend who was an agent. So I gave that friend a call. One never knows what connections you can make during a jury duty break! We have been together for almost a year. So far Wendy Lynn has provided a lot of assignments to me.


Do you have a favorite medium you use?

I love acrylic, oil, watercolor and digital. So, no I don’t have a favorite. The decision is based on time and money. Occasionally a client makes a specific request. Usually, they dont have a preference, and I decide.


Do you take research pictures before you start a project?

I set up human models especially if a character appears multiple times. I find several animal photo references and compile them as I draw. I can only do this with animals for some reason -perhaps because I am so comfortable with drawing them.

wings spread

Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?

Yes, I use photoshop from start to finish if time is an issue. I find that changes are easy to make if I work completely digitally. When I have time I like to work traditionally and when I have lots and lots of time I like to experiment with mixed media and collage.

two men

Do you have and use a graphic tablet?

I use a wacomb tablet when working digitally.


Do you do exhibits to market your art?

I did that a few times and I have not found that profitable. The snail mail promotional package, followed up with a phone call and thank you post card is the best method so far for me.


Has any of your work appeared in magazines?

I have illustrations in Iguana, Ranger Rick, Boys’ Life. It has been a long time since Cricket has hired me, but I keep trying!


Do you have a studio in your house?

My studio is a converted carport in a 1950’s rambler. It suits me well.

horse snake

Is there anything in your studio, other than paint and brushes that you couldn’t live without?

The windows and my dogs snoozing under the table.

jumping fish

Do you follow any type of routine to attain your career goals?

I try to maintain a certain amount of marketing, especially to markets that are not children’s illustration. Without the marketing, there are no career advancements.


Any exciting projects on the horizon?

I am working on two new books with Arbordale. They are stretching me in terms of subject matter and challenging manuscripts. But challenge is good.

nest in tree

Do you think the Internet has opened any doors for you?

Yes, it opens doors for everyone. I am able to be insipred by so many other artists and I can look at their websites when I need a jolt. I have a file of inspirational artists and their websites that I refer to a lot!

just so

What are your career goals?

I am always interested in finding new and interesting clients. I also would like to work on projects that advance the understanding of challenges of our time to children. For instance, books on environmental and social issues. If I could find assingments likethat, I would feel my work really has a purpose.

wood pecker

What are you working on now?

I am working on a book about a little lemming for Arbordale. One challenge is the snow! I have never had to create so much snow before! The other challenge is creating animals with expression without losing anatomical accuracy.


Are there any painting tips (materials, paper, etc.) you can share that work well for you? Technique tips?

I don’t think I have any wisdom in that area because I am always experimanting and changing my tools. However, I would like someone to give me tips on using a Cintiq tablet. That might be my next step up.


Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career?

Take a business class! It was the most valuable class of my educational career. Also, be prepared to flub up a lot of phone calls and interviews and consider it part of the learning curve. Understand that this is a saturated market and multiple income streams are helpful. For instance, I teach art in the late afternoons to neighborhood children, and I sell oil paintings at a fine art gallery in town. And develop the imagination. That is what sells.

bird on shoulder

Thank you Phyllis for sharing your talent, process, journey, and expertise with us. Please make sure you keep in touch and share your future successes with us. To see more of Phyllis’ work, you can visit her website:

If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Phyllis. I am sure she’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 9, 2015

Free Fall Friday – Guest Critiquer Announced

vicki selI am happy to announce that Vicki Selvaggio has agreed to be our guest critique for October. Here is a little bit about Vicki:

With a strong background in business ownership, Victoria A. Selvaggio comes to The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency as an Associate Agent with over 6 years of actively working as a volunteer and Regional Advisor for SCBWI Northern Ohio.  Drawn to the publishing scene first as an author writing all genres, with her most recent publication in the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, Vicki’s passion for honing the craft carried over into reading manuscripts for the agency. Currently, she is excited to read compelling manuscripts that will resonate with her long after she’s done.

What I’m looking for: 

I am currently looking for lyrical picture books, middle grade and young adult fiction, new adult, mysteries, suspense, thrillers, paranormal, fantasy, narrative nonfiction, adult fiction but find I’m especially drawn to Middle Grade and Young Adult. I especially love thrillers and all elements of weird, creepy stuff. If it’s out of the box, and it will make me think and think, long after I’m done reading, send it to me! On the flip side, I yearn for books that make me laugh, cry and wonder about the world.

How to submit:

Please email a query to: and put “Query” in the subject line of your email. For queries regarding children’s and adult fiction, please send the first twenty pages in the body of your email, along with a one-paragraph bio and a one-paragraph synopsis.

For queries regarding a non-fiction book, please attach the entire proposal as a Word document (the proposal should include a sample chapter), along with a one-paragraph bio and a one-paragraph synopsis of your book in the body of your email.

Here is an opportunity to hear what Vicki thinks of your first page. Below are the submission guidelines:


In the subject line, please write “October 2015 First Page Critique” and paste the text in the email, then attached it in a Word document to the email. Please make sure you include your name, the title of the piece, and whether it is as picture book, middle grade, or young adult, etc. at the top on both the email and the Word document.

Your First Page Word document should be formatted using one inch margins and 12 point New Times Roman font – double space – no more than 23 lines – only one page. Send to: kathy(dot)temean(at)gmail(dot)com.

PLEASE FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES: Your submission will not be included in the picks if you do not follow the directions for both the pasted email and the attached Word doc. This is where most people mess up.

DEADLINE: October 22nd.

RESULTS: October 30th.

Please only submit one first page a month. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow


Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 8, 2015

New Writer Fiction and Nonfiction Contest


New Writer Awards: Fiction & Nonfiction

Over the course of our Reprint Award, our staff worked with some of the most talented, established writers and presses in the industry, and while that was one of the best experiences in our time as editors, it made us eager to return to our roots. Working with name brand talents is exciting, but discovering new, unheralded voices is a bit like nicotine to editors: We’re genetically predisposed to wanting more, and quitting gives us night terrors.

From its advent, the mission of Sequestrum has been to feature new and emerging writers alongside literary heavyweights. With our New Writer Awards, hundreds in cash prizes and publication in a future issue of Sequestrum will be awarded to up-and-coming writers of fiction and nonfiction.

New Writer Awards Details:

  • Open only to writers who have not yet published a book-length manuscript.
  • One first-prize winner will receive $200, plus publication in our Spring ’16 issue.
  • Runner up prize(s) of $25-$50 cash, plus publication.
  • One submission up to 12,000 word per $15 entry fee, or two short pieces of 1,000 words or less.
  • Up to three poems per entry. $15 entry fee. 40 lines per poem
  • Submissions read and reviewed on a rolling basis.
  • Contest doors close October 15, 2015.
  • Winners announced in January. Publication in our Spring ’16 Issue.

General Guidelines:

  • We will only consider submissions through our online submission system.
  • Entries must not have been previously published in any format.
  • Simultaneous submissions are allowed.
  • Multiple entries are allowed, following the guidelines above.
  • Include a brief 3rd person bio in your cover letter to be used as a contributor bio in the event of publication.
  • Do not include any identifying information on your manuscript. This should be in your cover letter.

Click here to submit, and best of luck.

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 7, 2015

The Villain – More Than Just a Bad Guy

erikaphoto-45Erika Wassall, the Jersey Farm Scribe here, with a fourth supporting character to highlight.

The Villain – More than just a bad guy

To me, the ultimate villain is Gargamel. Stooped, rotted teeth, shabby black robe, this guy tortured those poor Smurfs every single Saturday morning. But somehow, I loved him. Why? Simple. I loved seeing him lose.

Humans instinctively relish seeing good win out over evil.

Whether Gargamel was trying to eat the Smurfs, turn them into gold, or just destroy them out of anger, his constant failure gave me hope, gave me satisfaction, and made me feel like I could also beat the evil in the world.

Villains play an important role in any story. They do more than stand in the main character’s way. They do more than create conflict. They really embody the reason the main character has to fight back in the first place.

Here are three different ways they can be broken down:

The One We Love To Hate 

Clear-cut good versus evil brings out the best in all of us. Gargamel. He whose name we shall not speak. Nurse Ratched. Miss Trunchbull. These people are beyond saving. And we LOVE them for it.

They’re outrageous. Which gives us, as writers, a lot of wiggle room. Often times, they don’t even have to make sense, making the same mistakes over and over again, contradicting things they’d done in the past. Ignoring laws, rules and regulations in simply unbelievable ways. It’s all explained away with… oh, well that’s just _____.

They pillage. They plunder. And often, they get away with it. They’re mean girls and boorish boys. And for much of the story, they’re safe on their pedestal. Yet, we read on.

Why? There’s probably lots of reasons. Cause… well, the fact is, being bad can be fun. So even while we aren’t cheering for them, we enjoy seeing the darkness, or the dramatics play out.

Seeing the snake in the grass is exciting. Watching it flourish can be tantalizing. It can instigate exploration of pieces of ourselves we otherwise ignore. And isn’t that the role of novels sometimes?

The Not-SO-Bad, Bad Guy

This one isn’t as clear-cut. There is debate surrounding this type of villain. Maybe they mean well, but their level of destruction has gotten out of control. Perhaps something has changed them or their perception is out of line.

These type of characters often bring up questions like: 

Would you put others in jeopardy to save one person?

Should we follow our heart or our head?

DOES the end justify the means?

They often teach us, just because nothing is black and white, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a right and wrong.

They grab the reader’s interest in unique ways, because the natural internal debate they spark can often be related to other aspects of their life. Connections are made, and the characters are never forgotten.

The Intangible Villain

A storm. An illness. Things that can’t be represented by a single person, these are often the main antagonists in our stories. Whether it’s not being tall enough to reach the candy jar or fighting to get out of the shadow of depression, these “essences” take on a life of their own on the pages.

Intangible villains are powerful tools that can show deep flaws embedded in the main characters.   And flaws can lead to growth as we watch our characters learn to arm themselves with different types of weapons. Acceptance. Hope. Family.

These types of villains often teach us that powerlessness does NOT mean we’ve lost. Perhaps we can’t control the weather and we can’t guarantee the destruction of cancer cells. But we can control how we handle it. We can fight. And we can win.

No matter what form (or formS!) of evil our villain’s take on, the best villains are the ones we can’t do without. And I strongly believe that our love for a good villain is representative of our desire to believe in the power of good.

“I am brave and strong and they are puny and weak, why can’t I defeat those miserable vile little Smurfs?!”

— Gargamel

Well, my evil wizard friend, the answer is simple, because no matter how many dark magic spells you cast, YOU will never be the hero. And heros will always win.

Our characters have come a long way. They’ve been through pain, they’ve fallen. But they’ve gotten up and emerged stronger.   They deserve that strength.

Our villains have meaning so that when our heroes overcome them, it’s all the more meaningful.

And our manuscripts are worth it!


Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!

Thank you Erika for another great post.

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 6, 2015

Pictures From Avalon Writer’s Retreat

I thought I would share a few pictures from the two writers retreats I held last week, since I do believe that a picture is worth a thousand words.

2015 Avalon Alex and Linda

Agent Alex Slater and Agent Linda Epstein out on the porch listening to first pages.

2015 Avalon bettelynn and Julie

Bettelynn McIlvain and Julie Phend after first page session.

2015 Avalon Carol, Angela, Jody

Carol MacAllister, Angela Larson, and Jody Staton discussing writing.

2015 Avalon Virginia Lois and Susan

Virginia Upton, Lois Roe, and Susan Amesse enjoying the discussion and the beautiful day.

2015 Avalon cards 3

After dinner fun with a game of Quiddler. Left to right: Angela Larson, Jody Staton, Linda Epstein.

2015 Avalon cards 2

Alex Slater, Susan Amesse, Julie Phend trying to come up with a winning hand.

2015 Avalon cards 4

Angela Larson and Jody Staton. Looks like Jody’s praying for better cards.

2015 Avalon Ann Marie Sharon

The second session was all in doors, since the weather turned bad with hurricane Joaquin stirring up trouble down in the Bahamas. This was the authentic Indian cuisine that Sindhu Vijayasarathy cooked for us. Yum!

2015 Avalon Ann, Sharon, Sindhu, Marie

Ann de Forest, Sharon Sorokin-James, Sindhu Vijayasarathy, Agent Mare Lamba.

2015 Avalon Dianne, Scott and Virginia

Dianne Warner, Agent Scott Treimel, Virginia Upton enjoying the company and the food.

2015 Avalon Karen and Dee

Karen Haas and Dee Falvo enjoying each other and celebrating good critiques, while cleaning up the kitchen.

2015 Avalon sindhu and chris

Chris Friden enjoying a beer with Sindhu after teaching all of us Scrivener. If you need someone to teach your writer’s group of SCBWI Chapter all the ins and outs of Scrivener, Chris is your guy.

2015 Avalon pumpkins 2

And a little pumpkin carving by Dee Falvo to add more atmosphere to the howling wind and rain pelting the windows. The frightful weather could not dampen our spirits. We hunkered down with good food, good wine, and worked unstop on our manuscripts.

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 5, 2015

The Dreaded Prologue

Agent Carly Watters from PS Literary has written a “How to” writing book. Here is an excerpt:

carly watter's book

The Dreaded Prologue

Can reader coming to your work for the first time get past your prologue?

Fact: Prologues in fiction should be avoided.

This may be unpopular advice but there are reason why agents and editors alike refrain from keeping prologues once they begin working on material.

Prologues are often back story and backstory can be added anywhere.

They can be distracting when the reader doesn’t know the characters yet and so the reader may skip it entirely.

Prologues often show that the writer doesn’t know where to start the story.

If the material in the prologue is important, why isn’t it in the body of the work?

The prologue may turn readers off from the novel before it even gets moving, so why put yourself at a disadvantage?

You might wave your most-loved book or WIP at me and say, it worked for so-and-so therefore it can work for me too! Alas, this is very rare. It’s a subtle strategy that needs to be reworked countless times, not a writing tool that can be tacked on for clarity. Are you the exception?

Tip: Use an epigraph instead. If you are trying to set up themes or a frame of mind when readers enter the novel an epigraph is a great succinct way of getting this information across.

Here is the link to buy Carly’s Book.

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 4, 2015

Take A Look Sunday – Cynthia Shelton


Chris: Images are sequential certainly –timed like a ‘joke’ which is fun. Not a whole story feeling, but a ‘stand up’ sort of quickie.  Questions arise too…where is the fish in second? Did he meet his maker just before the predator did in the hands of the child? (?)  It’s a moral take and has it’s place …but…

For children’s work, the characters might be better developed – more personality, better defined. I’m not sure what the brown thing is even! Colors work too for the underwater and camouflage need yet clear to us the viewer. Expressions are simple but actually do work well for such an abbreviated situation!  It works!



“I like the humor here! The expression of the lizard while he’s being nabbed, for one! These remind me a bit of “That’s Not My Hat”, but a little less successful in execution. I’m confused as to what’s actually happening here. Did the lizard eat the fish? Is it the same setting in the second illustration (there are several differences in background and setting, which leads me to believe that the location of the second is different than the first). Because of these things the “story” here is unclear (despite there being text). As in books like “That’s Not My Hat”, the story is not spelled out in text, but what’s happening is very clear through the storytelling of the illustrations. The reader can easily read between the lines to deduce what happened. That’s not the case here (for me!).

The artwork itself has a pleasing use of color; showing texture and light reflection in the water, which it nice. I’m a bit confused by the blotches of brown/green in the water, and I’m not sure what those are? I find them distracting and perhaps unnecessary. The supporting characters are fun, but could be developed a bit (like the lizard is!). Even a slight change in “expression” on the fishes’ faces (or just one or two fish), or the crab, might be a good way of developing all of the characters, and also moving the story along.”


Cynthia Shelton is a writer, illustrator, sailor and falconer. She has owned a fine art gallery, and a non profit for alternative fuels. She lives in Southern California with her boyfriend and dingo dog. Completed books include a non-fiction guide to choosing a falconer for pest bird abatement, and the first issue of a two volume DocuComic series about living alone on a 30′ sailboat.

If you would like to write Cynthia, please use

I want to thank Chris  & Christy for taking the time to share their expertise with us. It helps so many illustrators and is very much appreciated. Here is the CATugeau Agency website link:


For the next few months illustrators can submit two consecutive story illustrations for critique by CATugeau Agency.

If you do not have an agent and would like to be featured and hear what you should do or how it could be tweaked to help you sell your work, then please send Two SEQUENTIAL illustrations – not just 2 pages of illustrations, but two with the SAME “story/characters‎” to:

Kathy.temean (at) Illustrations should be at least 500 pixels wide. Please put ILLUSTRATOR PORTFOLIO in the subject area and include a blurb about yourself that I can use to introduce you to everyone.

Each Sunday one illustrator will be chosen.

If everyone likes this, we will continue until the end of the year.

CALL FOR ILLUSTRATORS: Remember I’m always looking for illustrations I can use with articles I post. Send to: Kathy.temean (at) Put ILLUSTRATION FOR BLOG in the subject area. Remember all illustration need to be 500 pixels wide. Include a blurb about yourself, too.

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 3, 2015

Illustrator Saturday – Yorgos Sgouros

MK4_1553-Edit-2_aYorgos Sgouros is a freelance visual artist based in Athens, Greece

He always liked to draw imaginary worlds and create his pictures using both traditional and digital media.
At the beginning of the new millennium he started working professionally as an illustrator and sometimes as an author as well. He has illustrated over 100 books including children’s books, fairytales, fiction, nonfiction, educational books and many more.

The “Toddler Bible” published in 2007 for Anno Domini Publishing was his first international book. It has already been translated in 15 languages.
“Turn and Learn Stories of Jesus” was the second book for the same editor.
In 2011 he illustrated the music book “The Magic Flute”. A unique collaboration between Athens and Montreal. with the participation of two children’s choirs and the Ensemble Sinfonia de Montreal.
Designing a new character is a special part of his work. Some of his favorite heroes are already here…most of them, however, are in his mind and anxious to meet you!…

Here is Yorgos discussing his process:

“First of all I begin with a rough layout of the picture….or rather many rough layouts!

TB_page07_pencilUsually I sketch many different rough drawings before stepping up to a final pencil. Although color is the most attractive part this first stage is the most creative one…

TB_page08_pencilHere I have the chance to experiment a lot and build the characters of the story. Details on the character are very important as they will give personality and …soul to the picture…


“In this stage I finalize my picture with color. I use a combination of ink, acrylic, color pencil or watercolor. I follow the lines of the rough layout but not 100%. Sometimes I might add a tiny detail or make a variation of the initial pencil.

noah_and_the_floodSo my quote is that you may be creative even at the very end!

If it is necessary I might do some digital retouch with Photoshop.


How long have you been illustrating?

I started illustrating professionally almost sixteen years ago.


What was the first thing you painted where someone paid you for your work?

My first commission was my story, too! It was a small educational fairytale about notes and music.


Where did you study art?

I studied at Technological Educational Institution of Athens .


What did you study there?

I studied graphic design, basics of sketching and drawing, animation, history of art, typography techniques and many more!

snowdog rain

Do you feel College helped develop your style?

A lot! My studies helped my to discover that art expands to many different exciting fields.

afraid of the dark

What type of work did you do after you got out of school?

The style of my first drawings was somehow a combination of everything I had learned during my studies.

baby boy

Did the college you attended help you get work when you graduated?

Not really…I searched work on my own at publishing or advertising companies and animation studios.

baby girl

Have you seen your work change since you left school?

Very much! When I look back at my first drawings I realize that my style has changed a lot and still changes…


When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

Also, the positive feedback I received during my first interviews at publishing houses encouraged my to work as a children books illustrator. I love illustrating and I love…children! So the decision came up pretty easily!

It is pretty impressive that you have illustrated over 100 books. How many years did it take you to illustrate all those books?

From the beginning of my career I have been illustrating books. Either educational or fairytales. There was a time I had the opportunity to illustrate 8 up to 10 books per year.

blue dragon

It looks like you have managed to hit all the publishers and businesses in Greece. How did you manage to secure so many different jobs?

It is necessary to work with various clients as a free lancer… There is one key for working on many different projects at the same time; Time plan! I have to be close to a daily program in order to meet tight deadlines.


Do you illustrate full time?

Yes. Illustration needs devotion so I have to work many hours in order to complete a project.


How did get the contract with Anno Domini Publishing to illustrate “The Toddlers Bible”?

I met the editors of ADPS during the annual exhibition of Children Books illustration at Bologna. I proposed my work and they gave me the opportunity to illustrate stories of Jesus in my style. They helped me very much to improve things in my work . I am very happy with this cooperation.


Did you see a difference in working for a UK publisher vs. the work you have done with publishers in Greece?

Yes, some publishers in Greece have reached a very high level of quality ,too , but still some things are quite different. For example the brief and the layout is much more specific and accurate. There is less space for improvisation.


Do you have any desire to write and illustrate your own picture book?

Definitely! I have done this already and I am in search for a publishing house who would like to publish my new one!


Have you ever thought about doing a wordless picture book?

Yes, this would be great. I love this kind of picture books and I would really like to illustrate one, too.

flying hen

Are you represented by an artist rep.? If so, how and when did you connect? If not, would you like to acquire representation?

Yes, I have an artist rep. for international projects. At first I searched through the internet and sent various e-mail with my pictures. My present agent liked my work so I joined their team almost two years ago.

gray kingdom

Have you ever worked with a self-published author? Would you be open to that? 

Yes, I have worked with self-published authors. Our cooperation was fine.


Do you have a favorite medium you use?

I use different kind of mediums. I prefer acrylic, ecoline ink and watercolor.

lazy town

Do you take research pictures before you start a project?

In most cases I need some research pictures before starting drawing… I often study animals, humans, clothes or buildings before transforming them into my style…

littlegreen hood

Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?

Yes, Photoshop is perfect tool for retouching pictures or making some color adjustments.


Do you have and use a graphic tablet?

I use graphic pens and tablets but I always prefer to draw with real pencils!


Do you do exhibits to market your art?

Not usually. This is one of my future plans, though, as it takes me a lot of time and effort to create a substantial exhibition…

princess desk

Has any of your work appeared in magazines?

Not really, but I like concept illustrations and would love to propose some of my ideas, too, if I have the chance.


Do you have a studio in your house?

I work at an independent studio…

sleeping in the clouds

Is there anything in your studio, other than paint and brushes that you couldn’t live without?

Music! I listen to various kinds of music all the time and could never live without…



Do you follow any type of routine to attain your career goals?

Every year I write down my hopes and goals. I try to be as close to my list as possible making just one step at a time. Some of them are not easy so patience and hard work are the tools to achieve my goals…


Any exciting projects on the horizon?

I have a couple of ideas for new books. I would love to see them published in the near future.


finish line

Do you think the Internet has opened any doors for you?

Yes! This interview would not happen otherwise! Internet has opened too many new doors for me. It is an amazing tool!


What are your career goals?

My goal is to improve my work and reach a wider audience. I would like to make more exhibitions of my art. In the following years it would be nice to teach children. I will just have to learn more before start  teaching.


What are you working on now?

I do not have any commissions at the moment so I have the chance to work on my own projects and  ideas. A friend of mine has a great idea of a graphic novel. Hopefully it will be published in the near future.

hippie carxropped

Are there any painting tips (materials, paper, etc.) you can share that work well for you? Technique tips?

It is interesting to combine material. Sometimes I work with watercolor on bigger areas or background and come up with acrylic for the foreground . This help me to give depth in my pictures.


Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career?

Be passionate about what you do. If you love your work and practice a lot then opportunities will arise sooner or later…

time master

Thank you Yorgos for sharing your talent, process, journey, and expertise with us. Please make sure you keep in touch and share your future successes with us.

To see more of Yorgos’s work, you can visit facebook.

If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Yorgos. I am sure he’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 2, 2015

Free Fall Friday – Tamra Tuller – Results

Tamra Tuller

Tamra Tuller

Here are the four first pages for September that Tamra Tuller critiqued:

I Want a Dog                  Picture Book by Lauren Shapiro

There’s one rule that’s posted all over my building. It’s in the lobby, it’s in the laundry room, and it’s even the elevator, so you can’t say you didn’t see it. That rule is “No Dogs Allowed.” That rule just frosts me all over, because I want a dog.

We were just about to get a dog, back down south, but then we found out we had to move up north for my mom’s job. We had to wait, to move all our stuff, and get used to it up here before we could get a dog. It was bad enough leaving all my friends, and coming up north and freezing so bad I thought I’d become a snowman, but I thought at least I’d finally have a dog – and now it turns out you’re not allowed to have a dog in this building. I never heard of such stuff.

I went to the basement, to find the building superintendent to ask him to take the signs down.

He said, “I already have enough problems without dogs. Kids ride scooters into the mailroom and knock over packages. Kids bike ride across the lawn and ruin the grass. Kids play on the stairs and drop candy wrappers. Kids skate down the hallway and it sounds like the subway is in the building and everyone complains to me about all the noise as it is. The last thing I need is kids running around the building with dogs.”

Now I most certainly wasn’t going to be doing anything like that. I just want a dog to walk to school with me, and then take it to the park and run around and play ball with me.

Here is Tamra:


This is certainly a cute idea for a picture book. Wanting a dog is a universal topic that so many children can relate to, and one that children will always relate to. So in that sense, there is a timeless quality to a manuscript like this, which leads to a book that will not go out of style.  

However, choosing a universal topic can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it doesn’t fall prey to fickle trends in the marketplace. On the other hand, you run the risk of being generic if you’re not careful enough to make your story different from the rest. This is a concern for me here. I’d love to know what makes this particular story stand out from the pack, and why I should choose this story over the other stories about wanting a dog. I’m not sure that is coming through here. 

Another concern for me here is voice. I’m finding that this voice isn’t ringing 100% true. Phrases like “that just frosts me” don’t feel authentic to a kid’s voice to me. Also, as I am sure you are aware, the number of words in picture books these days is very low. To me, this reads a bit more like an early reader than a picture book. If you want this to truly be a picture book, I would try to seriously reduce the word count. Think about how the illustrations might factor, and what story they can tell that your words don’t need to. Make sure you’re leaving room for the illustrator to tell half the story.


FIGAROACH – FIRST CRUSH  Connie Travisano Colón  –  early MG/CB

The dapper cockroach strutted across the lunchbox that now served as his stage. “Again, children — with greater exuberance this time.” He unbuttoned his vest. “Sing from down here.” Figaroach pointed to his thorax. To the scale of Do Re Me, he sang: “Mommy made me mash my M&Ms, I’m mad.” He gestured with one of his legs at his human students. “Your turn.”

This time, when siblings Sebastian and Charmaine Song belted out the vocal exercise, Figaroach was able to feel the vibrations from the speakers. The children sang it three more times and then plopped down on the old green couch in the center of their loft music studio.

“This is sooo booooring,” said Sebastian. “Change it up, little dude.”

Figaroach was staring out the window so intently that he didn’t reply.

“Earth to Figgy,” said Charmaine. She walked closer to their tiny vocal coach and looked in the direction of the window. “What’s so fascinating out on the roof?”

Figaroach shook his head. “Quite sorry. Was heavily in thought, was all.”

“You know, you don’t have to worry about that creepy entomologist who was on the news blabbing about talking bugs,” said Sebastian. “We won’t let him find you or dissect you.”

Figaroach waved one leg. “Oh pish posh on Dr. Stomp! Everyone in the scientific community thinks he’s a nut case for his undocumented theories about highly evolved insects. He doesn’t know the first thing about the truth. He’s become a laughing stock. It wouldn’t surprise me if they totally cut his research funding at Bug University.”

“So then, what’s bothering you? You haven’t stopped fiddling with your ascot,” said Charmaine.

“Oh, nothing,” said Figaroach. “Let’s switch it up and try a Broadway tune. We’ll sing Tonight from West Side Story.” He loosened the red silk ascot around his neck and sighed. His antennae formed a heart over his head. He began singing: “Tonight, tonight, It all began tonight,

Here is Tamra:


There is a lot of humor here. I think a music-teaching cockroach is a funny idea. Kids love bugs, and I think many will find this really amusing, particularly if you write this as a chapter book with illustrations.  

I think you do need to pick a format, though. There’s a difference between a MG novel and a chapter book. Based on the subject matter, which feels quite young to me, I would think this would make a better chapter book than MG novel. So make sure you do some research into the difference between the two and be sure you’re writing it like a chapter book. 

By the time I get to the bottom of this page, I am left with many questions. Maybe too many. Are Sebastian and Charmaine the only two students in the room? Or is it a whole class? I’m also having a hard time visualizing what’s going on. Is he standing near the window? Is that where the lunchbox is? I’d like to have a better sense of what is going on in this first page. I do appreciate, however, that you have set up the conflict already, assuming that the conflict is the Dr. Stomp? If not, think about whether or not you need Dr. Stomp on this page.  

One thing to beware of is how you use dialogue in your manuscript. It’s important to remember not to use dialogue as an info dump. You’re using dialogue here to let the reader know about the danger of Dr. Stomp, but since this is most likely assumed or shared knowledge between the characters, they’re likely not going to speak about it in this very explicit way. You can use your narrative to give the backstory. You may want to avoid doing that in dialogue.


JUST VISITING by Debbie Barsotti – Middle Grade

The last Frisbee he owned was now in no man’s land – or no woman’s land, as it was. A gust took it off course, beyond the gnarled hedgerow and onto the crabby grass of the neighborhood crab. Aldusa Stoddard, whose age was guessed to be 103, had more than one of Joseph’s balls, airplanes, and other high-sailing belongings. Why she occupied the only house on the municipal park of Manchester was always a question, a complaint, really, from the kids who played there. Joseph waved his friends on to the 18th hole of the disc golf course. “I’m going to get it,” he yelled into the wind.

   “Dare you!” Mickey shouted back with a wicked-witch-kind-of-laugh.

Joseph shuffled to the splintered front gate, chiding himself for his slow steps. Big, bad eighth grader still afraid of little old lady? Get over it. The gate opened easily and he was at the front door before he could change his mind. Just knock. Be polite. She won’t bite….

“Zow! Ow! Ow!” Loud breaths carried the sounds through the thick curtains.

Joseph’s impulse to run did not translate to his feet.

“Go on. Don’t stop. It hurts, but get it done!”

Scrambled noises escaped as the door opened. A little boy’s face appeared. “Ay! Oh, no!”

“Qué pasará?” A small girl pushed forward and both kids froze. “What do you want?”

And then a taller girl, Joseph’s height, breezed past the door with a basket. She back-tracked and handed the basket to the small boy. “Go inside.” Her black eyes focused on Joseph and he was sure his face was as red as his hair. “What do you want? Ms. Stoddard is busy.”

“You, ah, live here?” Joseph was puzzled about the presence of kids in this dilapidated house.

“Live here?” The girl hesitated.

“What’s wrong with Ms. Stoddard?” Antiseptic and bleach smells tainted the summer air.

“Elena! Hurry. I think she’s muerta!”

Here’s Tamra:


I think this is off to a really interesting start. By the end of the page I have enough information so that I understand exactly what is going on and most likely where this is going, but not too much information that I’m not left without some questions, something to keep me turning the page. And I do want to turn the page at the bottom of this one, so kudos on that.

I also think that the type of story I believe you’re telling has many classic elements. The creepy neighbor in the creepy house, who all the kids fear. Kids who are new to town, new friendships to form. You also seem to have a multicultural cast of characters, which is great, particularly considering the outcry for more diversity in children’s books.

I do feel the first paragraph could be a bit more clearly written and a bit more engaging. There is a level of detachment to this first paragraph. You might want to use more active language as opposed to passive. For example, you could begin with, “Joseph’s only Frisbee was now in no-man’s land…” It’s more direct and clear and to the point. You could then follow that with, “A gust of wind took it off course, onto the crabby grass of the old neighborhood crab, Aldusa Stoddard. Aldusa was at least 103 years old…” And then I might follow it up with some descriptors, ie: she was four feet ten inches with a hunched back and gray straw-like hair. Or something like that. I think it would make for a more compelling, clear, and engaging first paragraph to open up an otherwise engaging first page.


SPIDERSCRAMBLE by Amalia Hoffman Picture Book 438 words

Spider brothers went cycling on their super bike.

Just then, a noisy cricket clan started a horrible racket. Chirp, chiirp, chiiiiiiiiiirp.

All the commotion got the poor spiders utterly confused.

Big brother let go of the handlebars, second brother stirred to the right, third brother stirred to the left and little brother slammed on the brakes.

Down the hill they tumbled. Down, down, down…

They toppled one on top of another.

“We can’t get up,” wailed the brothers. “Our legs are tangled.”

Papa Spider wiped his forehead with one leg.

“What shall we do? “He asked.

“Call Dr. Spiderpill,” answered Mama Spider.

Dr. Spiderpill arrived at the scene. “Hmmm,” he mumbled. “Four spiders, eight legs each, equals thirty two legs.” He scribbled in his pad, Acute Spidescramble.

Papa Spider wiped his forehead with two legs.

“Please help my boys!” he begged.

Dr. Spiderpill gave a teaspoon of red syrup to first brother, green to the second, yellow to the third and blue to the fourth.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “When the boys’ legs turn the color of their syrup, I’ll diagnose which legs belong to what brother.”

The brothers swallowed the syrup even though it tasted yucky but all their legs remained black.

Papa Spider wiped his forehead with three legs.

“What else could you do? “He asked.

Here’s Tamara:


I think there is a fun concept here, playing with the idea of spiders getting tangled up in their many legs. I think this is something kids may find quite humorous.

As you may know, most picture books fall into one of two categories: concept book or storybook. What I’m not sure yet, and I think I should be sure by now, especially considering how short picture books are these days, is whether this is a storybook about spider brothers getting tangled, or if this is a concept book, teaching counting using spider legs as the vehicle. Or maybe even a concept book about colors. With picture books, you need to be so economical with your words, and I’d love to know by the bottom of this page what type of book you intend this to be.

The first few lines feel a bit clunky to me. Perhaps a smoother way to begin would be, “The Spider brothers were cycling (maybe say where—around the neighborhood/forest/or some kind of descriptor) when a noisy cricket clan started a horrible racket.” You don’t need to mention the “super bike” as this will be clear in the illustrations. Also, mama and papa seem to appear out of nowhere. They may need an introduction. This may be easier once you have set the scene a little better in the opening lines.

Think about how the illustrations will work with the text. In the best picture books, the illustrations are telling half the story and adding a whole other dimension. Are you leaving room for this or are you doing the work of the illustrator? Is there room to cut the text and let the illustrations do some of the work? You want to avoid redundancies between the text and the art. This requires a certain amount of faith in the illustrator, but he or she needs a lot of creative input. At 438 words, you do have some room to cut.

Thank you Tamra for sharing your expertise with all of us.

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 1, 2015

Non-fiction Books for the Over 50 Audience


Got a book, or an idea for a book, that would be of interest to people in their “prime time” – age 50 and up? We want to see it!

Got a book manuscript you’d like us to consider? Send it to us at

PrimeTime accepts only electronic submissions, sent in Word (.doc or .docx) or RichText Format (.rtf). Please do not submit manuscript as PDFs. We are primarily interested in nonfiction and prefer manuscripts in the 40,000-word range but will consider manuscripts of 20,000 words and up. We do not offer advances but do pay royalties. We are not a vanity, subsidy, or hybrid publisher. We never ask you to pay to get your book published. We pay you — not the other way around.

We welcome manuscript submissions from new writers as well as established ones. We do not require that you submit through an agent. As a diversity-positive publisher we especially welcome work by members of different ethnic and other groups and work that is targeted to members of different ethnic and other groups, but everyone is welcome. Our doors are open wide, although as a new and small publisher, we are limited as to the number of books we can publish.

Some of our books will be published as traditional print books. All of our books, whether selected for print or not, will be published as e-books.

Again, if you’ve got a manuscript you want to show us, the address is

Talk tomorrow,


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