Wednesday, December 13, 2023


Happy Holidays

from all of us at GROG

We're taking a holiday break 

and look forward to returning in the New Year.

Meanwhile, keep your spirits up, 

and keep on spreading the light.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

So--You Want to Be an Author! by Tina Cho

Before I start today's post, can you please do me a favor? If you enjoy reading the Grog Blog, can you please re-subscribe on the right side of this site in the blue box? Our email subscription service quit a while back, and so we've had to figure out a different way to get our posts out. Thanks so much!

Many people think the life of an author is exciting because you become rich and famous for having written a book(s). Perhaps so, if you’re J.K. Rowling with a world’s bestselling series. But for ordinary, non-famous authors like myself, an author’s life is still very exciting but filled with lots of tasks that aren’t even writing.

Let me describe to you the writing tasks of today, the day after Thanksgiving. First, it started with a creative call on Zoom. An MFA graduate student interviewed me about haenyeo (Korean diving women) and my work with The Ocean Calls. Then, I spent an hour and a half inspecting sketches for one of my forthcoming books, God’s Little Oceanographer (PRH Waterbrook 2025). I love seeing the illustrations, but this also included revising sidebars to fit within the pictures.

Afterward, I signed one of my work-for-hire books that’s going out of print. I had posted on social media that the publisher sent me a box of them. So I was selling them cheaply to get rid of them. I packaged up the books and ran to the post office.

Then I took time to fix my poorly neglected blog. The email subscription service I used is no longer in service. So I had to figure out how to install a new one. After that I reviewed an author friend’s forthcoming book and wrote a short review for Good Reads. And now I’m writing this blogpost and still need to revise my own picture book manuscript. I’ll save that for tomorrow. Phew! So much. And that’s because I have the day off from school. (I teach fulltime.)

So here’s a growing list of tasks an author might do:

   1.     research

   2.     go on research trips

   3.     write

   4.     market their books on social media

   5.     critique other stories

   6.     creative calls on Zoom

   7.     review sketches/illustrations

   8.     sign books

   9.     mail books at post office

   10. order/design bookmarks & stickers

   11. plan/schedule author events

   12. do author visits at schools

   13. read new books to stay current with the market

   14. write blogposts and articles

   15. be interviewed & interview others

   16. speak at a library or other events

   17. write book reviews for other authors’ books

   18. email with editors, agents, & publicists

   19. create and maintain an author’s website

   20. connect with readers on social media or in person

   21. participate in critique groups online or in person

   22. attend writing conferences

   23. take writing classes

   24. teach writing classes

   25. write a lesson plan or activities to be used with their book

   26. getting picture taken for an author photo (to be done many times over the course of a writer’s life)

   27. listen to authors’ podcasts and webinars to grow in the writing craft

   28. radio, newspaper, and TV interviews

   29. plan for a book launch

   30. find new book ideas


Whew! And if you think of more tasks an author does, leave them in the comments! So after reading about all the nitty-gritty, are you SURE you still want to be an author?

 Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE being an author. But some tasks I like better than others. That might be true for many of my writing friends. But all in all, just like having a baby, you kind of forget all the sweat and work to birth a book. And once you hold it in your hands, it's true love.

So go forth, write, put on a smile, and finish all those writing tasks waiting for you! 

Tina Cho is the author of Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans (Little Bee Books 2018), Korean Celebrations (Tuttle 2019), My Breakfast with Jesus: Worshipping God around the World (Harvest House 2020), The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story (Kokila/Penguin Random House 2020), and God’s Little Astronomer (PRH Waterbrook 2024) & God’s Little Oceanographer 2025. Her lyrical middle grade graphic novel, The Other Side of Tomorrow, debuts from Harper Alley September 2024. After living in South Korea for ten years, Tina, her husband, and two kids reside in Iowa where Tina also teaches kindergarten. @Tinamcho

Tina Cho, finding her book at Pottery Barn Kids

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Holiday Break for the GROG by Kathy Goobler Halsey

 Gobble, Gobble, Gobble. Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate! 

The GROG blog is taking a holiday break until Wednesday, Dec. 6. 

In the meantime, check out Fran Hodgkin's great post on holiday gifts for writers.

We're back with "Work for Hire: What is it, and should I do it?" Look for it in 2 weeks. 

We wish you a peace this season of thanksgiving. WE are so thankful for your readership and comments!

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Gifts for Writers by Fran Hodgkins

It’s getting to be that time of year, and you as a writer may be fielding the question “What do you want for the holidays?” or you may have writer friends that you want to give a special, writing-related gift to. While contracts and agent services are notoriously hard to wrap, here’s a list of ideas that will keep on giving throughout 2024!



Notebooks. Of course I start with notebooks. Every writer has a secret stash, but you can never have enough, can you? Some of my personal favorites include Cognitive Surplus, which are science-themed and come in an astounding array of formats, from wee little Observation, just perfect for the pocket (which attracts less attention as you eavesdrop on strangers do research) to the Science Lab notebook, which is 9.25 x 11.25. The covers depict different scientific disciplines, which you can stretch to non-scientific writers with a little imagination. got a language lover? Try linguistics! A gardener? Botany! Check out notebooks, mugs, and other fun stuff here.


You may have seen them, odd-looking notebooks books that are bound with plastic disks. The disks let you move pages around to your heart’s content. Ideal for your favorite non-linear thinker. Disk-bound notebooks are available from a variety of places, including Staples, Happy Planner, and Levenger. Different sizes, formats (lined, dot grid, grid), and orientations are available. So are punches so you can make your own task pages or add a printed document to your notebook. Very handy. (Levenger is also a source of elegant ballpoint, rollerball and fountain pens from manufacturers such as Conklin, Sheaffer, Cross, Parker,Lamy, and Montblanc. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)


Pencils: What good is an awesome notebook without something to write with? There are lots of fantastic writing implements out there, but I’m going to share a few favorites.


Musgrave Pencil is located in Shelbyville, TN, and has been making pencils for nigh on a century. Pick up their heritage collection of specialty pencils, or one of their sets in beautiful cedar boxes. They’ve also got notebooks, sharpeners, shirts, and hats. Explore this historic company here.


A favorite of many illustrators, Blackwing pencils provide a distinct line and are so smooth! These pencils have distinctive rectangular erasers that can be replaced by pulling out the metal clip that holds the eraser and popping in a new one. Blackwing also  has  notebooks, pencil sharpeners, and even metal tip protectors. If you don’t know where to start, I suggest the Audition Pack, a set that includes the four pencils Blackwing features. Check them all out here.


Books. What writer doesn’t need more books? Well, none of us, really, but hey, come on. Some excellent choices for writers include:

  • Bird by Bird, by Annie Lamott
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King
  • The Artist’s Way and related works by Julia Cameron.
  • On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser
  • Line by Line, by Claire Kehrwald Cook (this title came out in the 1980s, but I find it has an immediate impact on my work every time I read it.
  • The Save the Cat books, including the original book on screenwriting by Blake Snyder and Save the Cat Writes a Novel, by Jessica Brody. These books will get you thinking about structure in a whole different way! 

Thesauruses are helpful when you just can't think of the right word. A new favorite of mine is the Emotion Thesaurus (thanks, Weezie and Sue!). It not only defines emotions, but also provides physical signs and behaviors. Available in hard copy, ebook, PDF, and as an online subscription that can be bought for a month, six months, or a year. 

The website is a treasure trove of information, too; visit

to learn more.

You can get any of these print titles from your helpful and best-beloved indie bookstore!


A break. If the writer in your life needs time and space to finish (or start) their work, consider giving them a break – literally! You can book them a hotel room that will give them peace and privacy, and a chance to concentrate. Bonus points if your writer can order room service, and if the hotel has a gym in order to work out frustrations.


A bigger break. Related to the above is the gift of a writer’s retreat. The retreat can be paired with a class, such as those offered by the Highlights Foundation. The advantage of the “bigger break” gift, versus the weekend at a hotel, is that your writer will be able to meet and socialize with other writers, should they choose to do so!


An online class. If the writer in your life can’t travel (or doesn’t want to), an online class will let them learn more about their craft. Online course providers include Coursera, which offers classes from universities around the world; the Gotham Writers Workshop, and Writer’s Digest University. You will find a variety of topics and a range of prices. They can last just an hour up to a full year.


Fingerless gloves. I love my fingerless gloves, and in fact am wearing them as I write this. I find that they keep my hands and wrists warm (I’m lookin’ at you, Maine in November!), and I’m less achy at the end of the day. Some have half fingers, others none. Some go all the way up to the elbow, and beyond! As with the other gift ideas, you can go from basic (around $6) to fabulous (cashmere, for about $100).


Help. Is your writer on deadline? Help is always welcome. We sometimes forget to eat, so meal delivery is an idea, as is the attention of a house cleaner. Okay, so these can't be wrapped, but they are great way to show the writer in your life that you support them.


Silence. Noise-cancelling headphones are an excellent choice, especially if your writer lives with other people. They may not cancel out the roar of everyday life, but they certainly tone it down a lot! These headphones are available from a variety of makers, Bose, Apple, and Anker. Prices range from $40 to $400.


The gift that keeps on giving. One gift you can give is a positive review! Amazon reviews are important. If you’ve bought your writer’s book, leave them a starred review!

Wednesday, November 8, 2023



I personally don’t believe there’s such a thing as writer’s block. When I sit and stare at the blank page, I like to think of it as brain rest! There’s no point sitting there trying to have words magically appear. Instead, it may be best to get up and walk away, just for a bit anyway. Do something else for awhile until enough’s enough and naptime is over!

“But I’m still drawing a blank.” 

So let’s shake things up and get back to creating those wonderful stories that we know are resting in there somewhere.  Here are some ideas and resources that help me find light again. Maybe a few things that could help start your sparks flickering again too. 

I thrive on deadlines, prompts, and contests. Not that I have editor or agent deadlines. I make my own. The ones that I set for myself to keep me accountable to me and my critique partners. 


Start here, right where you are. Look outside your window. What do you see? Leaves fluttering to the ground but only one whirls away. Where is it going?  An unusual bird at your feeder, not like the others? Mmmm…where did that one come from? How about the kids across the street trying to find their dog who has broken its leash. Is your mind turning this into an exciting adventure? What are you cooking? A family recipe that you could write about, its origin and tradition. 

Here’s another way to activate your writing muse again. Members of our critique group post random photos or videos as prompts then we quickly spill out 50 words or less. Just ramble on the page without thinking much about it. Totally different thoughts and words burst from this exercise. Each writer has a different story to tell. Some are lyrical, or family oriented, maybe nonfiction or mysterious. A few might make it to your storyboard!

Still not there?

Here's a site that offers 100 ideas of things to write about.

And this one could be my favorite for grabbing random prompts. Maybe because it’s like a wheel of fortune or a mysterious grab bag.

Round and round and round it spun and this is the prompt it found for me—

                     You are walking through a forest when one of the trees

starts talking to you. What does it have to say? What

do you do?

My mind takes the nonfiction path with researching trees, forests, production, photosynthesis, maple syrup, deciduous, evergreen…..

Or, you may take another path that leads to a mysterious new world where all the trees talk and you are the alien! That’s kind of an interesting twist, isn’t it? And I certainly wouldn’t have thought of it without the random wheel spin.


They’re all about deadlines and themes and prompts and wise advice from professionals. And, often PRIZES!

We’re heading into a new year and that means new story ideas, especially if you start off in January by joining Tara Lazar and her StoryStorm. Presenters will take you on their publication journeys, offer helpful hints, or glimpses of book pages. Your mission is to jot at least one story idea for thirty days. And, who knows, a few of them might explode into new manuscripts!  You must be registered, comment on the posts, and then sign a pledge saying you’ve come up with at least thirty story ideas to make you eligible for randomly drawn prizes. That’s it! 

Then in February, if you love nonfiction and biographies as much as I do, you may want to join the NFNinjas over at The blog is full of information and inspiration. The Ninjas describe the NFfest as a “month long crash course in nonfiction.”

Here they are going off on a planning retreat because after the Fest, they hang around for the year offering nonfiction writing tips and advice. N
ow, I bet you’re full of inspiration and ready to write! Not quite?

Well then, how about going over to spend March with Lynne Marie at It surprises me at how much I can learn by reading other authors’ children’s books. I have a special notebook for this one. I literally “copy, cut, and paste”!  



The wonderful, yes, wonderful person/author, Vivian Kirkfield, offers us the 50 Precious Words contest in March. Fifty words don’t seem like many, but try and write a children’s story with a beginning, middle, and end, with a plot in just fifty words!

Then there’s Susanna Leonard Hill, who gives you opportunity to sharpen your pencil and writing skills with Valentiney, Halloweensie, and Holiday contests.  

Kaitlyn Leean Sanchez, literary agent, gives you a chance to “create connections and grow as writers” with her Fall Writing Frenzy. Isn’t that what we’re looking for, to grow as writers?

There are so many more sites and authors who can help us get out of that writer's block we thought we were in. Look around, visit their sites, and I'll bet you'll find lots of help to get your muse motoring again! Which ones have I missed? Where are your favorite story igniters?

Be inspired! 

Get excited!




Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Creating Characters with Melquea Smith

Photo by Pablo Izquierdo - Capturing Belief
 Melquea Smith (pronounced "Mehl-kwee-yah”) is an award-winning children’s book illustrator based in New York. She is an administrator for BlackCreatorsHeadquarters and also a PAL member of the West-Central New York SCBWI region, which is how I met her. And – she has two books that release this fall: The Time Machine (October 2) and The Biggest Gift of All (November 16).

I’ve been wanting to chat with her about illustrating kids’ books, and we finally got together (virtually) a few weeks ago. It was a delightful chat; Melquea bubbles over with joy when she talks about the characters she has illustrated. I asked her all kinds of questions about how she goes from an author’s manuscript to creating a three-dimensional, very much alive character on the page.

Cardinal Rule Press
Me: What’s the first thing you do when creating a character?

Melquea: I start with the story, and after reading it over a few times I begin thinking about what sort of character might inhabit the story. In particular, what sort of character haven’t I created before? I think about their features: are they light-colored or darker? Is their hair kinky or curly? Who is in their friend group, and how do they fit in? How do they dress? For example, in The Time Machine the main character, Bailey is very sciency. She’s not the type of girl to wear frills – but her best friend, Nia, is.

Also important for me is to find a way to add the experience of black girlhood, from the accessories they wear to how they act. This is where I bring my lived experience, growing up a Black girl.

Includas Press
I also think about what I don’t see in the media. I want to showcase the spectrum of personhood, celebrate the soft, dark-skinned black boy, for example. So many times we focus on spunky characters or those who have been hardened by life experiences. This is why we need more books, because one single book can’t be the catch-all to represent the spectrum of experiences.

Me:  I notice that you illustrate characters from diverse ethnicities and cultures…

Melquea: Yes, and I do research, just as an author does. Tia and Mia, in The Biggest Gift, are twins. They are also Asian. Whenever I create characters, I pay close attention to stereotypes of marginalized groups and steer away from them. Stereotypical images are like when you write a cliché. The other thing I do is try to add a little bit of myself to my characters. Mia, for example, wears cat ears. I’ve done that – and continue to do that!

Me: Once you get your idea for characters, what’s next?

Melquea: I begin working on “discovery sketches” – just to learn who my characters are. I grab a sheet of computer paper and a marker and I start playing around with shapes for their face. I might snap a photo with my phone for sketches I particularly like, Then when I get a good feel for the shape and language of my character, I’ll go deeper. I might play around with proportions, sketch different body types, try on some different hair styles: afro? ponytail? locs? I’m looking for what feels right for that particular character. 

At the same time, I want to make sure that my character doesn’t look like others I’ve drawn in previous books. I’ll also put them in a line-up with other characters in the book to see how they complement each other, as well as how they differ.

When I get their looks down, I play around with how they move through space. I might invite them to go out for ice cream with another character, and sketch them together. I’m also attentive to visual and personality quirks that help them interact with other characters.

Me: I’ve invited a character or two to share hot cocoa and cookies with me…

Melquea: Yes, like that. Illustrators need to sit with our characters. We need to know how they move both within the story and outside the story. How are their fingers positioned when they talk to a friend? Sometimes adding a small detail to a face can really make their emotion come through – and we have to capture that emotion on the page.

Me: Thank you so much for inviting us into your illustrator’s life!

You can read more about how Melquea designs characters over at her blog. Learn more about her and her books at her website and on her  Instagram .