Monday, June 29, 2015

Meet Ariel Bernstein ~By Suzy Leopold

The secret of a good critique partner is sharing great feedback with each other that helps a writer to grow and learn. For myself, as a writer "under construction", Ariel knows the importance of sharing honest and helpful suggestions for improvement as one of my critique partners. 

When critiquing a manuscript, Ariel begins with what she notes is working with the story and follows through with constructive criticism to encourage me as a writer. Her suggestions for improvement help me to revise and make the story the best it can be. 

The "Sandwich Method" is an excellent way to give and receive a critique. And this Ariel knows how to do. She knows what makes a good picture book manuscript. She knows the importance of a catchy hook, a unique story arc with a satisfying ending. Ariel knows that every word counts in a picture book. She knows that dialogue needs to move the story forward. Both Ariel and I share manuscripts once a month, where we give and take, through a critique group called All Picture Books on Deck.
Without further ado, let me introduce you to Ariel Bernstein. I am thankful for my critique partner, Ariel. Read all about Ariel and all that she does as she shares her love of children's literature.
A beautiful smile!
Ariel Bernstein 

Q1. Tell us about your writing journey. What inspires you to write? why do you write? What genre of kid lit do you prefer to write?

A1: I've written on and off since I was young. I remember in high school I had an assignment to write a story in the voice of Holden Caufield from The Catcher in the Rye. I was a so-so student and this was on of the first assignments that came very easily to me that I also enjoyed. I'm pretty sure I go an 'A' on it which also made me think I should look into writing more.

I'm inspired to write either when I've thought of a concept I feel is interesting enough to explore or when I think of a compelling voice to tell a story with. I've mostly written picture books, all fiction, and recently completed a draft of my first chapter book. I enjoy writing both (picture books and chapter books), allot writing the chapter books was definitely more daunting at times.

Q2:  Do you have an agent? How did you know she was the one to represent you and your writing? Do you have any words of wisdom on how to seek representation?

A2:  I've recently signed with Mary Cummings from Betsy Amster Literary Enterprises. We had a great phone call about the picture books story I submitted to her and it was clear she felt as passionately about my story and the characters as I did. She gave fantastic suggestions about how to improve the story and I really wanted to work with an agent who could give great editorial feedback. It's been wonderful working with her. 

You have probably heard most of this advice on querying before, but researching agents, through sites like Literary RamblesQuery Trackers, their agency sites, their Twitter feeds and MS Wish List, can be helpful in understanding what they're looking for. Getting other writers to read your queries is great (the group Facebook Educational Website Sub It Club is fantastic for this). Keep your bio very relatively short and don't worry too much about having a huge online presence. If your agent thinks an online presence is helpful and loves your story, they will discuss developing one with you. If you get a rejection from an agent you want to work with and eventually have another story to submit them them, you should. Just wait a few months first before re-submitting!

Also read (and even submit your query to) Janet Reid's Query Shark. Janet give detailed and helpful advice on writing queries, even if it's for a query in a different genre. Plus, she's hilarious in her posts.

and her journal 

Q3:  If you could invite five authors to dinner who would you choose?

A3:  I would choose: 1. Jane Austen because she's JANE AUSTEN! 2. Kelly Link because my mind is blown every time I read one of her short stores. 3. Maya Angelou to hear her voice in person. 4. George R.R. Martin because I have a ton of questions to ask about his Game of Thrones books. But I wouldn’t keep him too long at dinner so he could go back to writing. 5. Maurice Sendak, to thank him for opening my mind as a child as to where my imagination could take me.

A Tooth Fairy Pillow
"under construction"

Q4:  Share something about yourself that very few people may know about.

A4:  I still have a baby tooth. There's probably a picture book story in that but I haven't figured it out yet.
A stack of mentor
picture books

Q5:  How do you use mentor texts to support your writing?

A5:  I use mentor texts to get in the right state of mind to begin the story I want to write. I can't read articles on the Internet or a novel and then transition to writing for kids. I need to read a picture book or part of a chapter book before I begin my own stories.  I also use mentor texts to get a feel for word count, pacing, character interaction and fun language. If you can break a book down to understand all the things in it that work so well, it’s incredibly useful when writing your own stories.

Q6:  How do you come up with ideas that inspire you? 

A6:  I've come up with ideas in all different ways. One idea was inspired by a common phrase. One idea I thought of just by thinking of a color, which let to an object of that color, which let to a character holding that object, which lead to another character wanting to hold that same object badly, and there was my story. One idea I got while thinking of funny titles, and the actual story unraveled from there. Like most writers, not all of my ideas actually turn into great stories, or even finished ones.

Q7: Do you participate in [a] critique group[s]? Do you have any thoughts on what is best for working with critique partners?

A7: Yes! Having critique partners is one of the best things you can do as an author. And they're free! I belong to a six person online critique groups where we swap stories once a month. I also have about five critique partners where we send each other work whenever we need an extra set of eyes. When you find a fellow writer who give you honest and helpful insight into how your story can be improved, and manges to do it in a kind way, never take them for granted.

Q8:  Do you have any hidden talents that you want to share?

Q8:  I have this really weird thing (I don’t know if it can be called a talent), where somebody can say something to me and I know pretty quickly how many letters they’ve used in the words they’ve said. For instance, if someone says ‘What are you doing today?’ I know instantly that sentence is comprised of 20 letters. It’s not even about counting. My dad and sister are both math teachers and this is pretty much the only math gene that I got. It’s pretty useless but freaks people out sometimes which is fun.

Q9:  What words of wisdom or best piece of advice do you have for aspiring writers?

A9:  Every writer knows that the path to publishing can be a hard one filled with lots of rejection and disappointments. Fortunately, there are supportive and informative writer communities out there that help sustain you. My advice is to seek out these communities through websites (like this one!) and Facebook groups. You’ll find writers to share your accomplishments with, to vent about frustrations, and to learn from. It helps immensely to know you’re not alone on your writing journey. 

Q10: Finally, where can readers find out more about you?


Thank you, Ariel, for the opportunity to learn more about you and to share your writing journey with our GROG Readers. The many links that you provided for answer #2 are excellent resources. Your positive attitude, beautiful smile [with one baby tooth! ;)], and willingness to share your knowledge of the craft of writing for children always warms my heart. You are appreciated. 
I picked this flower 
just for you,


  1. Great interview! It's nice to know more about you, Ariel. I see you in the kidlit world online :)

    1. Your comment is appreciated, Tina.

    2. Thank you, Tina! It's a wonderful, small world in the kidlit community :)

  2. Good critique partners are so essential. Nice to meet Ariel and know more about her process, Suzy!

    1. The many words of wisdom and the resources that Ariel shared are hopefully helpful to all. Thank you, Kathy.

    2. Good critique partners are the best! Thanks for reading, Kathy!

  3. It's great getting to know you better, Ariel! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Carrie! I appreciate your reading it :)

    2. Thank you for reading All About Ariel, Carrie. Meeting many writers through the kid lit community online is gratifying.

  4. Great interview!! Ariel is so wonderful. I'm so, so happy for her!!!

    1. Even though I have not met Ariel in person, Shari, I agree with you. I second your comment; Ariel is so wonderful. Thank you for reading the GROG Blog post today.

  5. Thanks, Shari! You are wonderful as well and I appreciate the support!!

  6. Such a nourishing article Suzy & Ariel. I luv seeing the stack-o-mentor books. And learning about this skill Ariel inately uses, of quanitfying # of words spoken. That is destined for one of her characters, fer sure. So glad to know about your critique process & all the goodness shared here - links, photos, tips etc.

    1. Jan, you always have many compliments and much goodness to share. Thank you for reading All About Ariel.