If you want to be a writer, you have to be willing to spend time alone with your thoughts. Alone with the blank paper or computer screen staring back at you. After you've written something, you might say to yourself, "This is great !" Or you might say, "This stinks! How can I possibly call myself a writer?"

Usually, the first draft of a story is not great. Usually it's not horrible either. That's where a good writers' group comes to the rescue. A writers' group lets you know where your writing soars and where it needs improvement. In a good writers' group, you find support and companionship. I am lucky to be part of two wonderful groups of children's authors and illustrators. Their generous and thoughtful comments always help me find ways to improve my stories.

Left to Right: Vivian VandeVelde, Robin Pulver, Tedd Arnold, Mary Jane (MJ) Auch, Cynthia DeFelice, Patience Brewster, Ellen Stoll Walsh, Bruce Coville (before Kathy Coville joined us and before Tedd didn't have time to come anymore)

One group meets at the home of Cynthia DeFelice on Seneca Lake, one of Upstate New York's beautiful Finger Lakes. Once a month we gather to read and discuss our work. Other members are Tedd Arnold, Mary Jane Auch, Patience Brewster, Bruce Coville, Kathy Coville, Vivian VandeVelde, and Ellen Stoll Walsh. Our meetings last all day. We laugh a lot, and sometimes, when a story is deeply moving, we cry.

Catching up before the meeting starts: Kathy, Cynthia, Robin, Ellen, Bruce

We've been meeting for 10 years. This is from our early days.

Cynthia's dog, Josie, with Patience Brewster, and MJ Auch

Cynthia, Robin, and M.J. - all with hip chic glasses!

Most - maybe all! - of these photos were taken by Vivian VandeVelde

Bruce and Kathy Coville confer with Patience's dog, Will

Cynthia, Tedd, and Ellen look at proofs of Axle Annie and the Speed Grump

Many months later, the book came out!

Cynthia made a Fly Guy t-shirt for her baby grandson.

My other group, PB Jam, also convenes once each month to work on picture book (PB) texts only. The other four Jammers are Alice DeLaCroix, Marsha Hayles, Jennifer Meagher, and Ellen Stoll Walsh.

Ellen Stoll Walsh, Jennifer Meagher, Marsha Hayles, and Alice DeLaCroix

My husband, Don, and I have a small cottage on Keuka Lake--another Finger Lake! Once each summer, children's writers and illustrators in the area come for a Keuka Frolic. Everybody needs time to play, maybe especially kids and people who create books for them!

Sadie greets Cynthia

...and relaxes with M.J.

Jennifer Meagher, Cynthia DeFelice, Susan Wojciechowski, Betsy Urban

Marsha Hayles and Linda Sue Park

Ellen Stoll Walsh and Patience Brewster

Ellen Stoll Walsh, Vivian Vande Velde, Marsha Hayles

Marsha Hayles, Roxane Chadwick, Alice DeLaCroix
Ellen Stoll Walsh, M.J. Auch
Vivian VandeVelde, Jennifer Meagher
Cynthia DeFelice, Robin, Patience Brewster