Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Meet the Volunteer Team


Michigan’s first regional advisor was Carol Farley of Mt. Pleasant, who took this leadership role in 1982 and served 22 Michigan members. Our SCBWI chapter currently has about 525 members and is led by Michigan Regional Advisors, Carrie Pearson and Jodi McKay, and Illustrator Coordinators, Kirbi Fagan and Deb Pilutti, as well as a talented and diverse group of volunteers:

Carrie Pearson, Co-RA, has been a Regional Advisor since 2013 and lives on the shore of Lake Superior in Marquette. She became an SCBWI member in 2005 when she decided she’d better learn more about writing for children if she was going to spend so much time doing it. Carrie is the PAL author of two informational fiction picture books, a STEM nonfiction picture book, a STEM bio launching in 2022, and a nonfiction #strongwomen anthology about real princesses launching spring 2022. She is the Michigan Reading Association’s 2019 Gwen Frostic Award recipient, received an SCBWI Works of Outstanding Promise (WOOP) award, and won the SCBWI-MI Picture Book Mentorship Award to work with Newbery Award author and Michigander, Lynne Rae Perkins. She loves helping people in the children’s book community learn about the business, improve their craft, and connect.

Jodi McKay, Co-RA, and previously the PAL coordinator since 2016, stepped into the co-RA position in 2019.  She is the PAL author of WHERE ARE THE WORDS? and PENCIL’S PERFECT PICTURE both published by Albert Whitman & Co. Her fabulous agent, who understands Jodi’s quirky humor, is Linda Epstein of the Emerald City Literary Agency. Jodi lives in Grosse Pointe Farms with her husband, son, a not very bright, but adorable doodle named Ralph, and a feisty feline named Albi.

Kirbi Fagan, Co-Illustrator Coordinator is a Metro Detroit based illustrator who specializes in creating art for book covers and comics. Her illustrations are known for their magical themes, nostalgic mood and feminine heroines. She received her bachelor’s degree in Illustration from Kendall College of Art and Design. Kirbi is passionate about participating in the illustration community both online and at large. Currently, she teaches illustration at College for Creative Studies in Downtown Detroit. When not painting, Kirbi enjoys writing stories, spending time with her family and rollerblading with her dogs, Sophie and Maisey. Her recent clients are Marvel Comics, Disney, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Books, Orbit Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt & Dark Horse Comics. Recently, she’s been recognized with the Jack Gaughan Award: Best Emerging Artist 2017, Muddy Color Rising Star 2017, and International Illustrator of the Future.

Deb Pilutti, Co-Illustrator Coordinator has been pursuing childish endeavors for most of her life. She has designed theme park graphics, children’s toys and clothing, and now is writing and illustrating for children. Her newest book, THE SECRETS OF NINJA SCHOOL (Holt/Ottaviano) comes out later this month. Other books she’s illustrated or author/illustrated include TEN RULES OF BEING A SUPERHERO, (Ottaviano/Macmillan), BEAR AND SQUIRREL ARE FRIENDS, and THE IDEA JAR (Simon & Schuster). Deb lives in Ann Arbor, MI.


Our Leadership Team is comprised of the Regional Team (RAs and ICs) plus several additional volunteers who devote their time and expertise to our chapter.


Dave Stricklen, Indie/Self Publishing Coordinator  & Shop Talk Co-Coordinator for the Grand Rapids region: In a former life, David was an airport police chief with 30 years of experience in law enforcement. After retiring, David went all-in on his creative side. He has written a series of three sought after MG fantasy adventure books: Beneath and Beyond, Through the Eyes of the Beast, and The Heart of the Swarm. His new release is a contemporary MG fiction entitled Ripley Robinson and the Worm Charmer, which is gaining momentum. His books and school visits are filled with magic and creativity. David’s reverse perspective painting was an ArtPrize 3D 2018 popular vote finalist & a Colors of Community 3D & 2D popular vote first place – in the ArtPrize category. David is an active SCBWI event planner and volunteer. For more about Dave and his books, go to

Many of our volunteers are leading free Shop Talks that meet regularly in many locations across the lower peninsula. All are welcome to attend. Keep your eye on the Event Calendar for a Shop Talk near YOU! For more information on these meetups, or Shop Talks in general, please contact Dave Stricklen at stricklen [at] gmail [dot] com.

Lauren Nyquist, Published Members Coordinator and writer for The Mitten’s Book Birthday Blog, Lauren has been an SCBWI member since 2018. Lauren was born and raised in Michigan and is a graduate of the College for Creative Studies. She is an illustrator and writer, creating children’s book illustrations and stories, gift and greeting card designs, and copywriting. Learn more about Lauren and see her work at

Ann Finkelstein, Mentorship Coordinator and Co-Coordinator of the Lansing Area Shop Talk (LAST) has been an SCBWI member since 1999. During that time she’s served as a Co-RA, planned many conferences, and convinced her husband to join SCBWI. Her published works include science and math articles in Highlights, Cricket and Spider magazines. She currently writes novels for teens. She lives in Haslett and tutors high school students in reading, writing, math, and science.

Isabel O’Hagin (Ph.D.), Equity and Inclusion Team Coordinator and Kalamazoo Shop Talk (KAST) Co-Coordinator, has been a member of SCBWI since 2013. As a pre-published author, she writes stories steeped in Latino culture from the southwest where she lived most of her life. She has written two middle-grade novels, several picture books and is currently working on a YA novel. In 2018 she was recognized as a runner-up in the SCBWI-MI Novel Mentorship Contest. Her publication credits include teacher education articles, book chapters in early childhood music, and serving as the editor for a state education journal.

Deb Gonzales, author and SCBWI Liaison for the Michigan Reading Association, is a career educator, curriculum consultant, former school administrator, and adjunct professor, a podcaster (The Debcast), and past SCBWI RA for the Austin Chapter. Deb currently devotes her time to writing middle-grade novels, crafting teacher guides, and various other freelance projects. She’s the author of six transitional readers for New Zealand publisher, Giltedge, and the non-fiction picture book Girls with Guts: The Road to Breaking Barriers and Bashing Records (Charlesbridge, 2019). Deb serves as a member of the Michigan Reading Association board and earned her MFA in writing for children and young adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Learn more about Deb and her many projects by accessing her websites at and

Kristin Lenz, The Mitten Blog Co-Founder, and Co-Editor, is a writer and social worker who has lived in Michigan, Georgia, and California. Her debut young adult novel, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go, was the 2016 Helen Sheehan YA Book Prize winner, a 2016 Junior Library Guild Selection, and an honor book for the 2017-2018 Great Lakes Great Books Award statewide literature program. Learn more at 

Nina Goebel, The Mitten Blog Co-Editor (Illustrative Design), is a native of Bavaria and lives in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. She has been an SCBWI member since 2011. Nina is primarily a graphic designer and illustrator, who started writing in 2012 as well. She is also an active member of the Grosse Pointe Art Center and volunteers for an art therapy program for inner-city kids in Detroit. Both of these activities have given her the opportunity to teach workshops and facilitate art shows with disadvantaged youth and adults. Access to find out more about Nina.

Tammy Layman, Registrar, lives on the shores of Lake Michigan in St. Joseph with her husband, two aspiring middle-grade writers and an increasing number of pets who believe they are people. Growing up in a family of storytellers, the only way she’s able to get a word in is if she’s on a stage telling stories with a microphone. Or when she finally gets one published for them to read! Tammy joined SCBWI early in her writing career. She let her membership lapse. She joined again. She took another break. She joined again. This time, Tammy decided she’d better get involved. When the call for the registrar position opened, she thought she’d give it a whirl. Tammy’s stories have supported museum exhibits and classroom activities. She has presented at the National Storytelling Network (NSA) National Summit. She has been published by The American Society of Training and Development (ATD) and A Pass Education.

Mary Rudzinski, MichKids Listserv moderator, recently moved to Plymouth, Michigan with her husband. When she is not writing, traveling, or enjoying a bike ride, Mary is busy gardening and learning how to rehab her house. She hopes to grow her writing community in Michigan and adopt a rescue dog.

Kara Marsee, Communications Co-Coordinatoris a writer/illustrator who has worked in graphic design, children’s storybook multimedia, and has shown artwork in galleries and art fairs. As a member of a creative household, she must guard creations and books from a hungry house rabbit with a taste for paper. When she’s not drawing, writing, or reading, Kara can be found puzzling over sudoku, hiking in the woods, practicing yoga, or enjoying a cup of tea. You can learn more about Kara at her website

Patti Smith, Communications Co-Coordinator, is a current special education teacher and former legal aid lawyer Patti F. Smith is the author of four books: Images of America–Downtown Ann Arbor (The History Press), A History of the People’s Food Co-op Ann Arbor, Head Over Feet in Love (Soul Mate Publishing), and Vanishing Ann Arbor (The History Press). She has been a contributor to, West Suburban Living magazine, Concentrate, Mittenbrew, The Ann, AADL’s Pulp blog, and the Ann Arbor Observer. Additionally, she is a frequent public speaker around town, curating HERsay (an all-woman variety show), GROWN FOLKS READING (storytime for grownups), DESSERTS BY THE DECADE (food history), and has told stories at Ignite, Nerd Nite, Tellabration and Telling Tales Out of School. She is currently working on several non-fiction picture books and a chapter book that will teach kids how to avoid fallacies.

V Gray, IG Illustrator Communication Coordinator, V Gray is an illustrator and writer born and currently based in Detroit, Michigan. They graduate from CCS in 2021 with a bachelors in fine arts, majoring in Illustration and minoring in creative writing. Specializing in the diverse field of illustration, their market is geared towards and caters to; publishing, graphic novels, comics and cover art and not limited to editorial illustration. Working in a predominantly digital medium with watercolor and gouache. Their inspirations come from their own unique experiences being African American, LGBT artists. Inspired by artists: Tillie Walden, Vashi Harrison, and Lucy Knisley. With a unique technique of bold colors and detailed line work, their work mirrors a specific aesthetic of cute and humorous visuals. Their biggest achievements would be being a participant in the yearly CCS shows and scholarship awards. To see more of V’s work, check out their website and follow them on Instagram @vxlxrie_

Kris Munroe, Shop Talk Liaison and SE-Mitten Shop Talk – Farmington Hills Co-Coordinator, has been a member of SCBWI since 2003. Kris is delighted that she can use the skills developed while working in human resources to support the shop talk coordinators and further the Michigan Region’s goals. She’s writing a fantasy chapter book. Kris is married and loves to garden.

Jacquie Sewell, Scholarship Coordinator,  is a former children’s librarian and the author of Mighty Mac: The Bridge That Michigan Built and an upcoming book, Whale Fall Cafe (April, 2021). She honed her history and science writing skills as a freelance writer for Lansing City Limits Magazine, several hospital publications, Cobblestone Magazine, and others.


In addition to the Shop Talk Coordinators shown in the Leadership Team above, several other members volunteer in this role:

Charlie Barshaw, Mid-Michigan Shop Talk Co-Coordinator, and Go-To Guy, has been an SCBWI member since 2009 when he lost his job but found his profession. Charlie is best known as the husband of author/illustrator Ruth McNally Barshaw, of “The Ellie McDoodle Diaries” fame. Charlie wrote for newspapers and magazines in his younger days and is now working on some middle-grade novel ideas. He was co-chair of the 2013 Fall Revision Retreat and the 2014 Mackinac Island Conference. Charlie is also the Co-Coordinator of the Lansing Area Shop Talk (LAST).

Kris Munroe, SE-Mitten Shop Talk – Farmington Hills Co-Coordinator, has been a member of SCBWI since 2003. After a long career in human resources, she retired in 2018 and is working on a fantasy MG novel.  She’s married and loves to garden.

Heather Shumaker, Up North Shop Talk – Traverse City Coordinator, is the author of three books for adults and a debut middle-grade novel THE GRIFFINS OF CASTLE CARY. She’s been a member of SCBWI since 2013, blogs at, and loves all things kid-lit.

Melanie Bryce is a writer and illustrator and a member of SCBWI since 2018. She studied creative writing, watercolor, and life drawing at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts and Kalamazoo Valley Community College. She is involved in the Kalamazoo arts community, including providing illustrations for KAST’s recent event “Kast a Spell,” participating in Art Hop, gaining acceptance in the West Michigan Area Show with her “To the Moon” submission, gaining acceptance in the 2018 KVCC student art show, and winning first place in the 2016 KVCC New Media Showcase.  Access this link from The Mitten to learn more about Melanie.

Betsy McKee WilliamsAnn Arbor Shop Talk Co-Coordinator, has been a member of SCBWI since 2012. In a former academic life, she studied and published short pieces on early American history and the history of childhood. Today she supports college student writing by day, writes fiction after hours, and is completing an MFA in Writing for Young Readers through the Solstice MFA Program at Pine Manor College. Betsy writes middle-grade fiction and believes in the importance of precise historical accuracy for novels involving time travel.

Alexia Andoni, Ann Arbor Shop Talk Co-Coordinator, has been a member of SCBWI since 2014. She is a Child Development Specialist and educator by day and a picture book writer by night. When not writing or teaching, Alexia enjoys spending time with her three children, gardening, practicing yoga, and turning to nature for inspiration and rejuvenation.

Susan Collins Thoms is the Co-Coordinator with David Stricklen for GR-West Shop Talks representing the greater Grand Rapids area. Sue is a longtime member of the SCBWI and very grateful for all the encouragement, education, and support she has received from the organization. She is the author of six picture books, (plus a drawer full of unpublished picture books and a couple of middle-grade novels.) She also has a gig writing medical features for Spectrum Health. She looks forward to talking craft and publishing with other children’s book creators at Shop Talks. You can check out her books at

Sue Afsari:  Sue, Farmington Hills Shop Talk Co-Coordinator, had a career in marketing and public relations before transitioning to the much more exciting world of kid lit. She has enjoyed the camaraderie and professionalism of the SCBWI community, and recently completed her first middle-grade novel.

Trish Barash:  Trish, Farmington Hills Shop Talk Co-Coordinator, is a writer of both YA and MG fantasy. Her current novel, a YA dystopian-fantasy, is in the final stages of submission-readiness. She’s been a member of SCBWI-for three years, and a frequent attendee of the Farmington-MI Shop Talk. She has attended multiple writing conferences, seminars, and pitch slams and is also an active participant in the Twitter #writingcommunity. Her Science Fiction short stories have won Honorable Mention in L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest. Trish enjoys being part of the Shop Talk and SCBWI team!