Original Art Giveaway by Illustrator Marsha Riti!

Enter to win a whimsical drawing of my character, Zeke the Zebra, by Illustrator Marsha Riti.

What: Zeke is the main character of an early reader series I’m working on. Marsha met him last spring in Advanced Writing for Children with instructor Liz Scanlon and fell in love with him. There are several fun, zebra-related activities on my website and I thought a “How to Draw a Zebra” page would be fun. Marsha loved the idea and drew him. Now, she’s generously donated the original 8.5” x 11” artwork for my blog’s first giveaway!

Three ways to enter:

1. Tweet with a link to my website ( Be sure to include the hashtag #zebra_art
2. Mention the giveaway on your blog. Send me an email if you want to be sure I see it! alishagabriel [at] aol [dot] com
3. Leave a comment on my website. (Sorry, but I had to disable comments on LJ due to a crazy amount of spam.)

When: Now through 8/20. The winner will be announced on Sunday, August 21.

Who: Marsha’s first picture book, “The Picky Little Witch,” written by Elizabeth Brokamp, is now shipping! Check out more of her work at

Is it time for an agent?

Is it time for an agent? That’s the question that’s been rolling around inside my head these last few months. The answer is different for each person, but if I’m honest with myself, I’ve know the answer for a few months. Looking back in my journal, there are several scribbles about this agent or that and why I should take a closer look at their work. 

Around June 2007, Jo Whittemore gave a presentation titled, “The Great Agent Hunt” for the Austin SCBWI Chapter. It was detailed, professional, and daunting. I had just finished my master’s degree and I thought, “Finding the right agent is like working on a master’s thesis.” I wasn't ready to that again, and the same could be said for my writing.

What have I been doing for the last four years, you ask? Besides teaching full-time, I’ve taken several writing classes, attended conferences, and learned the craft of writing. Like I said earlier, it’s different for everyone. I’ve met plenty of writers who submit over and over, but to no avail. A similar fate may await me, but at least I’ve given my writing a fighting chance by working on my craft first and carefully choosing a handful of agents to query. 

If you’re considering an agent search as well, you may want to check out a few resources before you seal the envelope or click “send.” Rather than regurgitating a bunch of links, I invite you to check out the following posts by industry professionals:

The Skinny on Agents by Jan Fields

Children's Book Agents and Artist's Representatives: a Guide by Harold Underdown

Questions to ask before signing with an agent by Jessica Alvarez (also check out Bad Agent )

A few more thoughts: 1. Read any and all available interviews for the agents you're interested in, 2. Know why you're submitting to that person and personalize the letter, and 3. Follow the guidelines on their websites.
Good luck!

Character conversations

I've been working on some early readers with a one-year old main character, Zeke the zebra. He's still learning about the world around him, especially the human element. I overheard this conversation about birthdays, but it isn't in any of the manuscripts.

"What does Happy Birthday mean?" asked Zeke.

"I don't know," said Gary the gecko.

"I thought you knew all about humans," said Zeke.

"Not everything. But it's easy to tell when they're happy because they smile," said Gary.

"That's good! What else?" asked Zeke.

"There are a lot of days. There's Oneday and Twosday."

"Then Threesday?" asked Zeke.

"No, next comes Windyday. Birthday must come after Windyday, right before Fivesday."

"Thanks, Gary. You're a good friend," said Zeke.

Summer is here

I know summer is here because 1.) I didn't wear a watch today and I didn't miss knowing the time, 2.) I baked brownies. I love to bake but rarely have time, 3.) I finished reading a book I had started. What fun! and 4.) I organized my bookmarks. I can't remember the last time I did that. It's amazing how many websites are no longer there.

It was also day 4 for the chickens, ducks, and geese living in their new coop. They all knew when it was time to go in the hen house, even though a few really wanted to free range on some grass instead of going in. What a relief that they're going in on their own without much coaxing and settling into their routine. They're a lot like me. It takes a few days for the changes to take effect, but when they do, it's easier on everyone.
bright music


Today I took my assessment center tests for National Board Certification. I'm so glad to have this behind me so I can truly enjoy my summer vacation! It was a long journey, but now I just sit back and wait for the test results.

Using pictures as a prompt

A good friend and critique partner just started an ICL course and wrote a story inspired by a picture prompt. She found the experience a little frustrating because she has so many ideas of her own that she wants to work on. However, she worked on it and will learn from the experience, I'm sure.

Earlier, I was browsing some pictures I'm considering for my website and they sparked something. In fact, they helped me over a mental hurdle in the story I wanted to write. The concept and characters were there, but I couldn't put the pieces together. Less than an hour after my image browsing, I had a rough draft typed and formatted. It's not the way I usually write, but images can be powerful inspiration.

If you're interested in finding free public domain images, check out
Wikimedia Commons, but be sure to check out specifics for each photo.

Another good sources is
OpenClipArt, but if you search Creative Commons, it searches several search providers at once. Be sure to check the specifics for each photo.

Finally, for many people, paying for royalty-free stock photos may be the way to go. One service that gives users a 7-day free trial is
deposit photos. Just be aware of the trial period and be sure to cancel before the trial is over if you don't find it as useful as you had hoped.

Happy Searching!

My new website!

Another school year is wrapping up and I have mixed feelings. It's always hard for me to adjust to a summer schedule. The pace is different. Having not just the whole day, but the whole week open and full of possibilities can be daunting. So, I made a sketchy schedule for the weekend and it helped! I accomplished several things I set out to do.

In fact, my new website is up and running. There are only a few things there, but I decided to start clean, concise, and small, leaving room to add and modify as needed. Check it out:

Happy Summer!

Writing a nonfiction piece about minors?

I've decided to embark on a new mission to write a non-fiction article about some amazing kids. They did a service learning project this semester that really touched the community and I've arranged to interview them on Friday morning. Does anyone have any suggestions about steps I need to take since I'm dealing with minors? I know I should seek permission from their parents before using their names or photos in the article, but is there a standard permission form people use?

Your comments and suggestions will be greatly appreciated!
bright music

Week of Feb. 20-26

These are the things I'm doing to further my writing this week. In fact, I just started a new manuscript and it's exciting! Why not try one?

 *Buy a writing resource and use it! I just used Children’s Writer’s Word Book by Alijandra Mogilner and wondered why I waited so long to buy it!

 *Buy a new journal or new pens. Starting with your favorite tools might be motivation to use them.

 *Research three publishers. Don’t wait until you’re ready to submit to begin your research. Begin looking now. Study their lists, what they’re looking for, and their submission guidelines. Follow these to the letter.

Happy Writing!