Posted by: Robin Koontz | July 18, 2019

Keeping it real


One of many things I have gleaned from successful writers is to make sure my fictional stories are believable. Experienced sci-fi and fantasy writers are adept at weaving a made-up world and filling it with characters and situations that a reader can believe and invest in. Legal thrillers play out according to real laws with believable scenarios. Historical fiction writers make sure their story is based on accurate period details. The reader understands that it’s fiction, but everything still needs to be relatable and plausible. We want them to suspend their disbelief and invest themselves in the story.

It’s just as difficult to make a story set in real life believable, even when it’s completely fabricated. You’re writing mostly about familiar things that the reader might know something about. We want our possibly skeptical reader to be able to say, “Okay, that could happen.” And this not only includes believable characters and situations. We also want to strive for realism in the details.

I’ve been working for months on a picture book story that at one point, involved growing a banana tree from a seed. I thought it was brilliant (you’d have to read the story and I can’t reveal that yet). Then I realized I needed to make sure that one COULD grow a banana tree from a seed. Nearly all plants grow from seeds, but it’s not always that easy to get them to sprout and flourish, especially in a climate not really right for a tropical tree.

So, I researched what kind of banana tree would grow from seed in western Oregon, which is Zone 8, and found Chini Champa – Darjeeling, aka Helen’s Hybrid. It’s a “cross between two varieties of high altitude bananas from the foothills of the Himalayas in the Sikkim region of India. The report is that Helen’s Hybrid could possibly be the closest thing to a cold-tolerant, edible banana that has been developed. The fruit is claimed to be sweet.” Helen’s Hybrid, whoever Helen is, would be perfect for my story.

But when the eight seeds arrived in a tiny packet, the instructions explained that they could take three to six months to germinate, maybe longer! Well that news pretty much blew a giant hole in my story. I needed something that sprouted in a few weeks.

I planted the seeds anyway, in two glass terrarium style pots. I would hang them in a window where they would get plenty of morning sun and be out of reach of the two cats, who love to nose into and destroy anything that I hold precious.


Seeds planted, I hung up the first terrarium, using the twine supplied. When I turned my back, there was a loud crash and tinkling of thin glass and I had a mess to clean up. The twine wasn’t adequate for the job (note to self: inspect twine before trusting). There were too many glass shards to try to locate and pick out the seeds from the soil, so I just tossed all of it in the trash. I didn’t hang the second terrarium. I just set it on a table and begged the cats to leave it alone. I watered it once a week. The cats ignored it and I didn’t get around to hanging it up.


Surprise surprise, three weeks after planting, a sprout appeared! And it’s growing. It doesn’t appear to grow fast enough to work in the story, but we’ll see. Which is okay, because during the continuing revision process, I changed the plant to a watermelon. I already knew how fast they grow, and how wonderful they smell, which is also important to the story. Here’s my watermelon plant from this year’s garden. It’s a mini-watermelon that doesn’t need the warm nights and long growing season that the watermelons from more southern climates require.


It’s important to me to research extensively and even try out things that happen in my story. I don’t want a reader to be immersed in my book and then stop and say, “No way!” I’ve put books down and moved on for that reason and don’t blame a young reader for doing the same thing. So I try to keep it real.

Posted by: Robin Koontz | April 14, 2019

Collage of Memories

BurlsClosetMy mom, aka Burl to her left coast kin, was an energetic and creative soul. Burl tried so many different crafts during her retirement years that I started calling her creations “Burl’s Limited Editions: sometimes limited to one.” Learning a new craft, enjoying the process, and then moving on to another new craft were what fueled her life until the day she died. Here she is in her little store, called Burl’s Closet, where she peddled her crafts and other treasures.

Recently, one of my favorite pieces of original Burl art crashed to the concrete floor of our carport where it lives. One of the ancient eye screws holding the hanger had given up. The carport has been a perfect home for this serene outdoor scene created from beach finds.

CollageThis was one of many creations Burl made while living in Carmel, CA in the late 1980s. It was made of bits of driftwood, glass, rocks and shells that she collected from the local beaches. The rocks she called “holy rocks” were from Del Monte Beach. Some even have the remains of the snail creatures that created the holes. There are shells of course, plus ocean glass and driftwood.

When Burl and I ran a craft barn together during the summers of the late 1970s, nature collage was our favorite activity. We’d take kids out into the surrounding woods where we’d gather cones, sticks, leaves, lichens, rocks, whatever. They’d staple burlap to a piece of cardboard and then glue all their treasures in whatever design pleased them. I later created a giant piece for the screen door on my aunt and uncle’s house and won 1st place in the yearly contest for holiday door decor (though my collection of leaves, cones and sticks had little to do with the usual glitz of the season).

IMG_4035When Burl’s beach collage fell, a lot of little bits went flying. I gathered them up and vowed to put it back exactly as it was before. But, finding out what the original looked like was a challenge. As much as I treasured this piece, I didn’t have a picture of it, exactly.

But, after scrolling through about 3,000 photos on my Mac, I found two photos where the collage was in the background. I enlarged the images, cropped and patched them together, printed, and then used the guide to glue things back pretty much as they were.


Now I’ll put in a more secure hanging system and hang it back up. Maybe I’ll glue a copy of this blog to the back for someone to discover after I’m gone.

Posted by: Robin Koontz | March 27, 2019

Celebrating the pre-birthday of Bug!

My new picture book, Bug, is now available for pre-sales! And it has already been getting some attention. Here’s what I can share so far:

Author and blogger Dawn Prochovnic invited me to tell Bug’s Birth Story for her blog. I’m so grateful that Dawn takes the time and energy to promote her fellow authors and illustrators. Here’s the link to Planting the Seeds for Publication.

BugDawnLast week, I created a little one-minute book trailer for Bug. A book trailer for a 32 page story is always challenging but great fun to create. Just bonk here to check it out.


And finally, Bug had a very nice review in Kirkus that was published in February:

A girl discovers that her passions can help her make sense of a difficult skill.

Bug is a girl who loves drawing bugs more than anything else, “especially math.” When her teacher, Mrs. Muskie, announces that they will go to the science museum, which has a cool bug room, if the class performs well on the upcoming math test, Bug takes the challenge seriously. She goes to a field to study but, frustratingly, finds herself continually distracted by new bugs to draw. After several failed attempts, she realizes that her doodles hold the visual key to understanding the math problems: adding spots on a butterfly’s wings and subtracting the number of ants that drop their seeds. Notably, Koontz acknowledges her young character’s agency by having Bug independently come to this revelation and later calmly assist Mrs. Muskie when Bug’s “lucky crickets” (stashed in her lunchbox to help with the test) get in her hair. The latter moment offers a spot of fun for Bug’s multiracial classmates. Pale-skinned Bug is precocious with her short, light-brown hair, rolled-up pants, and antenna headband; Mrs. Muskie has brown skin and a “cloud of curly hair.” Proud’s illustrations in pencil and acrylic take on the style of doodles themselves, with pronounced, colored outlines and circular eyes for characters and bugs alike. The crawling critters appear charming instead of off-putting.

A respectful boost of encouragement for young minds that may be struggling with school. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: April 2nd, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-4549-2356-5
Page count: 40pp
Publisher: Sterling
Review Posted Online: Jan. 28th, 2019
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2019


You can pre-order Bug directly from Sterling Publishing Co., Amazon, or wherever books are sold!

Happy almost birthday, Bug!


Posted by: Robin Koontz | February 20, 2019

Countdown to Bug’s Book Birthday!


My new picture book, Bug, won’t be released until April 2, 2019, but Jeep got his author’s copy yesterday! He gave it two paws up. Meanwhile, I’m working on a book trailer for it, and will announce that and more about how Bug came to be when we get closer to the publication date. Here’s the intro to the story of Bug:


There has already been a nice review in Kirkus, on February 15. Here’s an excerpt: “A girl discovers that her passions can help her make sense of a difficult skill… A respectful boost of encouragement for young minds that may be struggling with school.”

Bug is available for pre-order here.

Posted by: Robin Koontz | January 10, 2019

Nature-Inspired Writing Innovations

As a kid, I was happiest poking around in nature. My mom had created a huge rock garden using native plants that she found (stole) in the surrounding Hammond Woods. By the time I was growing up, her garden was about all that was left of many of the plants that had grown wild before the area was developed into a suburb of D.C. My friends and I used to hunker down in her little woodland and pretend we were surviving in the wilderness. In later years, we camped all summer in the Appalachian Ridge of West Virginia. As an anxiety-ridden pimply-faced teenager, I often preferred walking or riding my horse in the woods to any kind of social life. Like the song says, it was almost heaven.


So, even though I grew up thinking all I wanted to do with my life was “art,” I continued to be fascinated by nature and animals. When illustration work pretty much dried up for me a few years ago, I started writing about my favorite subjects. My first series was called Amazing Animal Skills, and one of the books was an Animal Behavior Society Outstanding Children’s Book Award Finalist. That honor encouraged me to keep on writing science and nature books! I also became fascinated with engineering, which I’m pretty sure would have surprised my engineer father (girls don’t do engineering). When I read about how Velcro® was invented, I researched and wrote a book about biomimicry, which is all about how nature inspires human engineering.

In time, that book became six books, and was published in 2018 by Rourke Educational Media. Here are the six titles and a nice review from School Library Journal:

Gr 4–8 — “Readers can enjoy an in-depth exploration of such topics as artificial hearts inspired by a jellyfish, jet engines modeled on the nostrils of peregrine falcons, and a stadium that mimics a bird’s nest. Photos of each of these innovations are large and detailed, while the text is concise and presented in easily digestible chunks. Diagrams offer additional information about how echolocation is adapted for canes used by those with vision impairments or how buildings use ventilation modeled on termite mounds. …VERDICT: Highly recommended for general science or STEAM programs, this series features the latest designs in multiple fields from around the world. — School Library Journal 11/01/2018

You can buy the books right here on Rourke Educational Media’s site, sold separately or as a complete series. You can also find them on Barnes&Noble and Amazon. I created a book trailer for it, which you can see here.



Posted by: Robin Koontz | January 1, 2019

Seven Years of Mostly Good Memories

2019 marks seven years since I stepped down as the SCBWI Oregon Regional Advisor, a volunteer job I held for 18 years. Today I let go the records I was entrusted with to keep for seven years (IRS requirements). It all went up in smoke in the paper bonfire we set almost every New Year’s Day. Nothing toxic, and damp cold weather meant no danger of fire spreading to where we didn’t want it. It’s always a fun way to spend a cold afternoon in January.


Seeing that old paperwork crinkle and blacken brought back a lot of sweet memories. They were mostly about our yearly retreat at Silver Falls. When I saw the retreat mascots designed by Carolyn being tossed into the fire, I rescued one copy to keep as a memory. I also kept the last bank statement when I turned over a very healthy treasury to the incoming Regional Advisors. The year before had been our first bad year in two decades, and we weren’t the only region that suffered low attendance and lost revenue as a result of the recession.

The last yearly conference I was involved with (I shared the massive task with several others) was one of the most difficult times of my life. I had announced my retirement a few months earlier, and it was like the earth shifted. There was even a big pre-conference event planned about what to do now, and I was not invited…which was pretty weird but understandable. I hung out with our guest editors and agents and tried to explain what was going on. And frankly, that was really weird.

I went through the weekend, accepting congratulations and appreciation as best I could, yet escaping to my hotel room often to collapse. My blood pressure was at crisis levels, and at one point I almost had my roommate call 911 but changed my mind. I didn’t want a scene. I still remember the sensation of almost fainting several times while speakers spoke and attendees chattered. I couldn’t wait for it to be over.

When I handed over boxes and boxes of stuff to the incoming leaders at the end of the weekend, I started to feel better. When I got in my car and began the 125 mile trek back home, I felt relieved. I had been so ignorant of how people could try to destroy another person, but that spring, I got a dandy reminder which led to my retirement. Bullies had the same effect on me when I was in 8th grade, only now I was an adult with hypertension. I thought I was strong and could deal with it, but it almost killed me.

As I drove, I worked on a new picture book called NO MEANIES ALLOWED. It made me laugh for the first time in a long time. I still have hypertension, but have learned to steer clear of situations like this. I did my time, and I’m proud of the work we did. The end. Expletives deleted. 🙂

So today, it was nice to see those few bad memories burn away. It was extra nice to be reminded of the many friends I still have from those days. By the way, I haven’t talked about this in public until now. It’s part of my effort to finally let it go. Thanks for listening. And may we all endeavor to persevere.


Posted by: Robin Koontz | October 24, 2018

Building a Wood-Framed Panelized Yurt: the book


We have a book! Actually, we have two books. Links to purchase them are below. Color printing costs were high on a 176 page book, so we also published a black and white version. The price is about 40% less than the color version, and the photos are clear enough to illustrate the task at hand.


Here are the links:

Building a Wood-Framed Panelized Yurt, in color

Building a Wood-Framed Panelized Yurt, black & white



Posted by: Robin Koontz | August 20, 2018

Keeping busy during the off-season.

This summer I had two book projects to complete for Rourke Educational Media, then as often happens in summer, that was it until fall work comes in. But it ain’t quittin’ time!

The writing life can be sporadic when it comes to paying work, but that doesn’t mean writers should just stop writing. If we keep working at our craft, our work is bound  to improve. I always have a list of projects to work on for a few hours each day. This summer, I researched and wrote a new 6-book series proposal, revised a picture book, started on a new picture book, submitted projects, and continued with a new self-publishing venture which I’ve been working on for a little over a year. Here it is:


I’ve been posting about this project on my other blog, WildCat Man, where I chronicle the many projects of my partner of 41 years, Marvin Denmark. I’ve written twelve Instructables about his projects along with a few of mine. It’s a great writing exercise, and they have contests (we’ve won two so far). Here’s the latest: Building a Wood-Framed Panelized Yurt. Please vote for it if you feel so inclined, thanks very much. *UPDATE: We won first prize!*

Meanwhile, the book is now 160 pages long, and still growing. I’ve taken hundreds of photos of the process and interviewed Marvin extensively (sometimes to his great frustration). The goal is to provide the reader with an easy-to-understand, well organized presentation of the start to finish of constructing the components and assembling a 12-sided wood-panelized yurt. Which, in case you wondered, is a dodecagon. I did not know that until I started on this book project.


I do help with the construction/assembly on many occasions when an extra hand or two are needed. It also helps me better understand what the heck I’m writing about.


And here are the Three Yaketeers: Marvin is in the middle with our neighbor on his right who will do just about anything for a beer. Jeep is our supervisor.

That’s all for now! I hope you all are enjoying what’s left of summer while keeping that butt in the chair for at least a couple hours a day. My motto: The weeds can wait.


Posted by: Robin Koontz | May 19, 2018

Farewell to our Matriarch

Carmel Pine Cone, May 18, 2018 (main news)My Aunt Louise, or Flo, aka Fanny Farkle, left the planet last month after breaking her hip and then developing an infection while in the hospital. We’re all very sad to lose her at the ripe old age of 96, but at least she kept her sense of humor until the end. One of the last things she said to the doctor was, “I’m ready to get off this bus.” R.I.P. Auntie! I’ll miss our bi-weekly phone conversations. Who will I argue with now?


Posted by: Robin Koontz | February 28, 2018

When to give up on a story.


Writers love their stories. It can be a love-hate thing throughout the writing process, but when a writer reaches the end and declares the story is done, they are hopelessly in love with it. Does anyone remember the intro scene from Romancing the Stone, when the sobbing Joan Wilder types in the final scene in her latest novel and all her tissue boxes in the house are empty, and she says, “This is SO GOOD?” That’s me. I really love my story when it’s done. It’s a serious story crush, and I am oblivious to its flaws or potential problems down the road.

At the beginning of my career I was over-confident at that giddy moment, and learned hard lessons. I soon stopped immediately sending my story out to an editor thinking they too, will run out of tissues because it was SO GOOD. I’ve learned to move on and come back to it later. And every time, even within a couple of days, I see lots of flaws, and start revising.

This goes on for varying amounts of time depending on the story. Eventually I will send it out to expert eyes for a critique or two. And then revise again. Finally I love the story even more than before. It’s no longer that first romance crush thrill with all the tears and tissues. Now this story and I are in a serious relationship, and I am committed to it for life. And it’s time to take the relationship to the next level: trust the story enough to send it out to the world.

During this often very long process, sometimes an agent or editor agrees that they will look at it again if we make certain changes. The thought of revising again after all the work we’ve put into a story can be excruciating. But we remember our solemn vow to love this story forever, and we revise it again. It can be very tough on a relationship. Rejection challenges our faith. Therapy is almost always required. But we stick with our beloved even as it changes and often grows into something we barely recognize. And, like a long-term relationship that goes through rocky times, love prevails.

One possibility is the story sells and we live happily ever after. But there is also the other possibility. What about a story that has been through it all with us? It has been revised countless times. Perhaps it made it to more than one interested editor’s desk, even to an acquisitions meeting or two! But alas, as we waited patiently, fantasizing about the award speeches we’d need to write (don’t tell me you never do this), our story was ultimately rejected. And now, our beloved has made the rounds to all of the possible markets, and has not sold. An agent will say it’s time to let it go, and after a lot of tears, we know she’s right. Sigh.

There are probably just three options:

1. Table it. A lot of successful authors have put a story or idea aside and revisited it later, sometimes years later, and sold it. That’s happened to me more than once, I’m happy to report. And sometimes, a story turns out to be just a story seed that needed to grow in a different climate to really flourish. A new story is born.

2. Self-publish it. If you choose the self-publishing route, do make sure you have a marketing plan and that your book is professionally edited and produced. Unless you are using a pseudonym, your name as an author is on the line. And while a lot of wonderful stories are rejected, a lot more not-so-wonderful stories are rejected as well or more often, have never even sat on an editor’s desk. Your book will be competing with a huge slush-pile and it will have to stand out. Do your research and honor your story.

3. Let it go. Kiss your story goodbye and call it quits. It’s like a friendly but nevertheless sad divorce. You will always love each other, but it’s never going to work. It’s time to move on.

While I have always chosen option 1, recently, I chose option 3. I gave up a story that was dear to my heart, called Lucy’s Little Church. I’ve never received so many beautiful editorial comments on a single manuscript that was not accepted for publication. So, since a descendant of the founders of the church that inspired the story also loved it, I gave Lucy’s Little Church to her. She had mentioned, after reading it, that she would love to have that opportunity, and I was humbled and flattered. Here is some of what she wrote when I released the rights to her a few months ago:

“We may never see each other face to face but we will always share Lucy’s experiences at Glendale Chapel. She may get a new name, Annie, for my sister who fell in the creek, Annie my mother, and Annie Shields who brought Glendale Chapel back to life.”

11986978_10207760295675214_5107976400581954905_nSo this time, I didn’t so much as give up on a story, I feel that I gave the story to its proper owner. I hope to see it come to life someday.



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