The Writers' Loop

For Readers and Writers


Author and Illustrator, FRED KOEHLER on “HOW TO CHEER UP DAD”


One of the nicest benefits of attending a writers’ workshop is getting to meet and work with other authors.  The Writers’ Loop enjoys introducing our readers to several of the talented artists we met during the Break Out Novel Intensive workshop that we attended in April.How to Cheer Up Dad

This week, I’m delighted to present author and illustrator, Fred Koehler, a bona fide funny bone tickler.  Fred’s book, How to Cheer Up Dad, as well as his heartwarming website, can promptly turn frowns upside-down and cause onslaughts of chuckles.  In fact, this book would make a great Father’s Day gift, particularly for new dads. And no, we don’t get a percentage, here at the blog.  It’s my sincere recommendation.

You can get a good feel for Fred’s humor by watching his video. Click his photo to view:


Fred Koehler’s video

When we discussed the interview for this post, Fred suggested using a recent communication from Mrs. Lycett’s 4th Grade Class at Waterbridge Elementary in Orlando, Florida. Fred so appreciated the students’ questions, that he thought our readers might enjoy them as well.  Here are the questions and answers between Mrs. Lycett’s 4th graders and Fred Koehler on How to Cheer Up Dad:

Is there going to be a sequel or series about Jumbo?



Yes! Little Jumbo’s next adventure comes out in March 2016. It’s called “Super Jumbo!” I’m sending you a super-secret sneak peek at one of the illustrations.  I’d love it if you would tell me what you think it’s going to be about. 🙂

Did your son do all the things Jumbo did in “How to Cheer Up Dad?”

My son did not do everything in How to Cheer Up Dad. I actually did a lot of those things to my dad. But my son Jack and I have very similar personalities, so I expect that he’ll get into a lot of the same kind of mischief that I got into when I was a kid.

Will all your books be inspired by your life?

So far, the answer is yes! I love stories that remind us of how great it is when we get along with our friends and families. I love stories that remind us to be cheerful and thankful and to play nicely with others. However, I am illustrating a book right now about dragons. And although I’ve never actually met a dragon, I would very much like to.

How does it feel to have your book published?

It’s an incredible feeling! It does take a very long time and you do have to work quite hard to learn all about the publishing industry.  But, just like gymnastics or playing a musical instrument or math, the more you practice the better you get. And I just practiced until I got pretty good at it.

Will you ever write a chapter book?

I’m so happy you asked that question! I am working on a chapter book right now! It’s about a mouse and a shrew (do you know what a shrew is?) who get lost at sea on a boat made out of an old milk jug. But they’re very clever animals and are going to have an incredible adventure together. I hope that one day this book will get published.

Why did you decide to write a book?

I think that being a writer or an artist or a musician or even a scientist or an athlete is something that you can’t help. I tried NOT to be a writer. But no matter how hard I tried, I still found myself writing. I hope you all find something that you love to do so much that you do it without even thinking about it.


Why did you choose an elephant for the main character?

Little Jumbo started off as a doodle in my sketchbook. My son and I were having a hard time getting along one morning at the coffee shop. I was trying to draw pictures and all he wanted to do was get my attention. To get my attention, he knocked over salt and pepper shakers, spilled his drink, and tried to climb up me as if I was ladder. When I got home, I had the doodle in my sketchbook that became the cover of the book!

oatmeal_rasins3bThe Writers’ Loop would like to thank and congratulate the 4th graders of Mrs. Lycett’s class for their most engaging and relevant questions!

I followed up with Fred, asking him to tell us more about his current projects.  He responded:

“Holy cow! I have lots and lots of projects in the works. I got to illustrate a wonderful picture book titled ONE DAY, THE END by Rebecca Kai Dotlich that comes out in October this year. It’s a super-fun title that teaches kids about telling and writing stories. It’s already getting great reviews and lots of buzz.

one day

And then, in Spring 2016, Little Jumbo gets his sequel in SUPER JUMBO. It’s another romp of a tale, filled with Little Jumbo’s oversized antics and citywide mayhem as our elephant’s alter ego does his best to be a hero.

workingBeyond that, I have two more picture books to illustrate and several more at various stages of completion. It seems as though the publishers aren’t going to let me stop making books anytime soon. And that’s good news indeed!”

What a wonderfully happy predicament for any writer or illustrator to have—publishers who won’t let you call it quits!  Congratulations, Fred Koehler!   Thank you for being our guest this week, and for permission to post some of your fantastic work here.

To visit Fred’s amusing website for more information, go to:  Enjoy!





On Monday, May 25th, many of us will be enjoying the last day of a three-day weekend, maybe with picnics, parties, parades, or visiting a favorite park or beach.  It will also be Memorial Day, 2015, the annual day for our nation to commemorate and honor the men and women who died in the service of our country.

Surely, each of us views the policies of national defense and military service through the lens of our own convictions and philosophies.  Many of us have experienced the pain of sacrifice for country, either first hand, or through family and friends.

Members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment place American flags at the graves of U.S. soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery, in preparation for Memorial Day, in Arlington, Va., May 21, 2015. Getty Images

Members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment place American flags at the graves of U.S. soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery, in preparation for Memorial Day, in Arlington, Va., May 21, 2015.  -Getty Images

I suggest we set aside personal ideologies for a day, and attend to the Presidential Proclamation – Prayer for Peace, Memorial Day, 2015 The proclamation pays tribute to “…the fallen heroes who died in service to our Nation…With heavy hearts and a sense of profound gratitude, we mourn these women and men…”

In compliance with a congressional resolution, President Obama signed this year’s proclamation asking all Americans to observe the National Moment of Remembrance beginning at 3:00 p.m. local time on Memorial Day.  The hour of 11:00 a.m. of the same day is designated as time of prayer for permanent peace.  Paragraph 5 of the  proclamation states:

“In honor of all of our fallen service members, the Congress, by a joint resolution approved May 11, 1950, as amended (36 U.S.C. 116), has requested the President issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe each Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace and designating a period on that day when the people of the United States might unite in prayer. The Congress, by Public Law 106-579, has also designated 3:00 p.m. local time on that day as a time for all Americans to observe, in their own way, the National Moment of Remembrance.”

To read the proclamation, go to:


As The Writers’ Loop celebrates writers and readers, I’ll close with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Decoration Day.” Here, Longfellow writes of a new observance of his time, a day designated to honor the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. It was called Decoration Day, for the practice of placing flowers on soldiers’ graves, and eventually led to our present Memorial Day. The poem was published in The Atlantic in June 1882, only a few weeks after the poet passed away at the age of 75.

Decoration Day

Sleep, comrades, sleep and rest
On this Field of the Grounded Arms,
Where foes no more molest,
Nor sentry’s shot alarms!

Ye have slept on the ground before,
And started to your feet
At the cannon’s sudden roar,
Or the drum’s redoubling beat.

But in this camp of Death
No sound your slumber breaks;
Here is no fevered breath,
No wound that bleeds and aches.

All is repose and peace,
Untrampled lies the sod;
The shouts of battle cease,
It is the Truce of God!

Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!
The thoughts of men shall be
As sentinels to keep
Your rest from danger free.

Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Author Sarah McGuire Chats About Writing, Fairy Tales and Her Debut Novel, Valiant

By Peggy Morehouse

Who doesn’t love a story that starts with Once upon a time… and ends with …They lived happily ever after?  Put some magic in the middle, add a protagonist who always  overcomes an obstacle, and you have a formula for a winning story. It’s called a fairy tale. They’ve fascinated readers for centuries with stories from The Elves and the Shoemaker by the Grimm Brothers to Stardust by Neil Gaiman. Now there’s a new addition to the list. Sarah McGuire released her debut novel, Valiant, in early May. She describes it as:

Reggen who still sings about the champion, the brave tailor. This is the story that is true. Saville despises the velvets and silks that her father prizes more than he’s ever loved her. Yet when he’s struck ill she’ll do anything to survive–even dressing as a boy and begging a commission to sew for the king. But piecing together a fine coat is far simpler than unknotting court gossip about an army of giants, led by a man who cannot be defeated, marching toward Reggen to seize the throne. Saville knows giants are just stories, and no man is immortal. Then she meets them, two scouts as tall as trees. After she tricks them into leaving, tales of the daring tailor’s triumph quickly spin into impossible feats of giant-slaying. And stories won’t deter the Duke and his larger-than-life army. Now only a courageous and clever tailor girl can see beyond the rumors to save the kingdom again.”


 Sarah was kind enough to answer a few questions about her writing journey and Valiant for The Writers’ Loop.

 1. What inspired you to write a reinvented fairytale?
To be honest, I never considered writing anything but a fairytale. I’d worked for years on another fairy tale retelling before Valiant, and even though I put that first story aside, I always knew the next books would be fairy tales.

Fairytales were the stories that shaped my childhood. They showed me worlds that were richer and more magnificent than I could imagine. So it made sense to dive back into them when I started writing. For me, fairytales (both writing and reading them) are a return to wonder.

2. Tell us a little about your main character. What will make the reader say, “I love her” and what will make us say, “Oh no. Stop doing that!”

Oh goodness. Well, Saville is the only child of an amazingly gifted but horribly bitter father. He dragged her to the city of Reggen when the tailor’s guild in their old home rejected him. When Saville’s father suffers a stroke, she works to keep them both alive by masquerading as a boy- a tailor’s apprentice. She goes from trying to escape her father to caring for him as well as sheltering a street boy she meets. And then there are the giants…

As far as what would make people love her? She’s smart and scrappy, and more than that, she looks out for her own. Her bravery is rooted in her care for her family, and eventually, her city, even though she never wanted to live there in the first place.

And the “Oh, no!” Hmmm. I tried not to make any of it easy for Saville. That was a conscious decision- to make sure that things only became more complicated, plot-wise and emotionally, as the story progressed.

3. Is Valiant considered middle grade or young adult fiction? What is the primary difference and what will all age groups love about your story?

They have entire panels devoted to this topic in various conferences! Valiant was marketed as Upper Middle-Grade, though from what I understand, it might have been considered YA years ago.

However, YA has shifted up since then. So while Valiant has a 17-year-old protagonist, the story itself has a more traditional fairy tale feel. It’s not very gritty: there’s romance but no sex, violence but not too much gore. Because of that, precocious 10 or 11 year old readers could read it and there wouldn’t be anything really prohibitive in the content itself.

Valiant will appeal to readers who enjoyed Ella Enchanted or Goose Girl or retellings that are more … earnest or heartfelt. Readers who want gritty probably wouldn’t like Valiant as much.

4. You are a busy math/creative writing high school teacher. How do you make time for writing?

I heard a writer say once that she wanted to shout when someone told her he’d write if only he had the time. The truth (as you say!) is we make time for writing.

I carve writing time out of my evenings since I tend to be a night owl. I’ll get home from work and take a nap. When I wake up, I finish grading and/or lesson plans. Then I work on writing till I’m too tired to work any more. I don’t have time to write every night, but I make it a priority. I’ve also found that it’s easiest to revise during the school year, and draft novels during the summer, when I have time to immerse myself in the story. But I’ve also drafted during the school year and revised during the summer. I think the main thing is to figure out what works best for you, and then just do it.

5. What has been your biggest challenge taking Valiant from idea to published novel?

If you ignore the years I spent learning to write on that first, shelved, novel, I had a short road to publication. I found an agent in my first batch of queries for Valiant and sold it in the first round of submissions. Then I worked with a fabulous editor, Alison Weiss, so even the revision process was great.

For me, the biggest challenge was finding out this January that my publisher, Egmont USA, was closing. I had one weekend to take care of final page passes, and those revisions were due the same morning that semester grades were due. My publication date was moved from June to April, and I found out that there wouldn’t be as much support as I’d originally thought for Valiant’s release.

(Let me say, however, that I was one of the lucky ones. There were other Egmont USA authors who had covers and ARCs, and they ended up having to sell those stories all over again.)

So I ended up banding together with other Egmont authors who had books releasing this spring, and we created Egmont’s Last List. So many people in the industry helped us get the word out about our books. At first, Egmont’s closing was incredibly daunting, but it turned out well. And it was wonderful to get to know the other Last List authors.

6. What advice do you have for anyone who has a story to tell and wants to start putting it on the page?

Put it on the page. Seriously. Just write it. You can’t learn how to write if you don’t write. You can’t revise if you haven’t written a first draft.

Just write.

For me the hardest part of writing is figuring out how to live in the tension of having a wonderful story inside me, yet putting down absolute dreck when I try to write it. That gap between what could be and what exists on the page can be horribly demoralizing. But the people who eventually sell books have figured out how not to become immobilized by their imperfection, and they keep going. So as you write, be aware that half the battle is just about whether you continue to write.

And then, once you’ve been writing for a bit, find people who know more than you do. Read their books. Go to conferences. Join a crit group where you are not the best writer. And then have the sense and humility to actually learn from those books and conferences and crit groups.

And keep writing. 🙂

sarah pic

Sarah McGuire

Sarah McGuire loves fairy tales and considers them the best way to step outside of everyday life. They’re the easiest way, at least: her attempt at seven to reach Narnia through her parents’ closet failed. She lives within sight of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, where she teaches high school creative writing and math classes with very interesting word problems. Valiant is her first novel.


You can purchase Valiant at:

You can find Sarah at:

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What’s the Deal with Writers’ Conferences? 


Three years ago, I attended my first writers’ conference.  It proved to be all that was promised, and considerably wipmore.  So, if I got so much out of it, why am I registered for a conference in August?  Do I need another one?   Why?

The internet is chock full of articles like, “Ten Reasons to go to Writers’ Conferences,” and “Five Benefits of Attending a Writers’ Conference,” and, well, you get the idea.  Let’s look at the issue from a different perspective and not reinvent the wheel here.  I propose,  “Top Ten Reasons Why You Should NOT Attend a Writers’ Conference.”

10.  Don’t go if you already know everything there is to learn about the craft of writing, or, if you don’t like to learn, period.

9.    Pass it up if you’re an expert on the publishing industry’s process.

8.    Stay away if other writers and authors bore you to tears.

7.    Skip it if you’ve had it up to here with inspiration and can’t take another drop.

6.    Don’t bother if you have tons of positive feedback on your manuscript, and readers are picketing your home until they get a published copy.

5.    Forget it if the last thing you need or want is a one-on-one manuscript critique with a high-powered literary agent, editor, or famous author.

4.    Sit it out if you have nothing more to learn about establishing a platform.

3.    Don’t even think of it if you get creeped out by being around literary agents and editors.

2.    Bag it if you think best-selling authors have no business teaching a workshop on writing.

And the NUMBER ONE Top Ten Reason Why You Should NOT Attend a Writers’ Conference:

1.    Avoid it entirely if you really don’t care about being a successful author.




All kidding aside, I highly recommend taking advantage of writers’ conferences.  In my two experiences, I met literary agents who critiqued my work, encouraged me, and offered fresh ideas to improve my plot and characters. Among a vast array of workshops, I learned about pitching my book to an agent; writing with humor; “show don’t tell;” self-publishing; maximizing platform; query letter writing, and more.  Keynote speakers are typically best-selling authors who inspire and encourage, often telling the stories of their paths to success in publishing. I found that meeting other writers, connecting with authors, sharing ideas, and networking at conferences all provide a wonderful, energizing experience.

On August 15th, I’ll attend the Unicorn Writers’ Conference for the third time.  I highly recommend this conference.   It will be held at Reid Castle, Manhattanville College, in Purchase, NY.  From their website: “Unicorn Writers’ Conference brings together industry insiders to offer rare tutorials on what publishers really care about, including how to market a book, generate publicity, select artwork, write a query letter, improve writing, and negotiate a book deal. Leading filmmakers and bloggers will give tutorials on how to take advantage of cutting-edge technologies and social media services. Countless networking opportunities will be available throughout the day.”


To learn about Unicorn’s guest agents, editors, speakers, manuscript review sessions, and workshops, check out their brochure:  or email at:


Coming up soon is the Annual Publishing Conference held by Adirondack Center for Writing.  This conference  will take place on June 6th  and 7th  at Heaven Hill Resort in Lake Placid, NY. It will include workshops, literary agents, editors and publicists, with one or two day attendance options.  To learn more, check out their website:


These are just two of a year-long calendar of writers’ conferences that offer a vast menu of topics such as mystery, memoir, biography, children’s, horror, playwriting,  journalism, and non-fiction.  Shaw Guides is an excellent resource for locating a conference of your choice.  Check them out at:

Additional sources for upcoming conferences are:

Writer’s Digest and Poets & Writers



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Take that Story Beyond Z-ebra!

By Peggy Morehouse

Who doesn’t love Dr. Seuss?

All of those life lessons wrapped up in rhymes:


His enchanting characters:



His fantastical illustrations:



He even gives advice on taking care of our home:


and love:


That’s why I called on the good doctor when I began to revise my novel after it was finished. The End had been stamped on the final page and I had sent out query letters to several literary agents. Time to close the laptop, stretch out my fingers, and take a break before starting novel three. Get on with other activities like hiking through nature, watching the sun rise, and lounging on my kayak on some lake somewhere.

“Stop,” says Mr. Literary Agent. “You’re not quite finished with novel number two.”

I straighten up. “Yes I am. I wrote The End on page 392. A high flying editor told me ‘You’re all set to hit send!'”

With a wise grin,  Mr. Literary Agent says, “But what if you did this and tried that.”

“Ohhh!” I say with a rise of my eyes. “That would be so zip-zippity wonderfully good.”

With my tap-tappity fingers still cramped and fatigued, I pull out a gem for a bit of a prod:


I open the book and find what I need:

Then he almost fell flat on his face on the floor

When I picked up the chalk and drew one letter more!

A letter he never dreamed of before!

And he said, “You can stop, if you want with the Z

But not me.

In the places I go there are things that I see

That I never could spell if I stopped with the Z.

I’m telling you this cause you’re one of my friends.

My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends!” 

With the turn of a page, the fire ignited as I typed with new passion past the end of the end.


Many thanks to Mr. Literary Agent, Donald Maass, and Dr. Seuss for inviting me into the world beyond Zebra.