Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Would it Change How You Wrote (Or What You Wrote) If You Knew It Would End Up On The Moon?

This news story, A 30-million page library is heading to the moon to help preserve human civilization, really captured my imagination.

Especially wondering about the whole selection process of which stories would represent humanity.

As creators of creative content for children and teens, we often think of our stories being collected in the personal libraries of our readers, in school classrooms and libraries, in public libraries and even the  home libraries of other adults who love literature for kids and teens, but the idea of a digitized library that represents who we are and who we have been as human beings, designed for future humans (or for other species) to study feels different...

“We want the archive to last longer than the moon itself,” Nova Spivack, co-founder of Arch Mission Foundation said. “If we place enough copies in enough places, some will make it into the distant future, no matter what happens on Earth, the moon, Mars or any other location.”

Which brings us to the headline question: Would it change how you wrote if you knew it would end up being studied in some distant future? Would it change what you're working on?

Every book, TV show, movie, song, story, instagram post, is a time-capsule, of both the era its written about and the era its written in. The Star Trek TV episodes presented a very late 60s vision of the distant future, but the hair styles always reminded us it was a vision envisioned in 1968.

And it's not a unique thought that our books, our stories, are a legacy we leave behind when we're gone.

Maybe the knowledge that your story would end up part of this archive wouldn't change anything. Maybe it shouldn't.

But it is fascinating to consider...

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Jane Yolen: The Golden Kite Award Interview—YA winner for "Mapping the Bones"

Jane Yolen was awarded the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for her YA novel, Mapping the Bones at the SCBWI 2019 Winter Conference in New York on February 8, 2019.
Jane Yolen

Here, we catch up with Jane about her book and winning this honor...

Lee: Congratulations, Jane! Please tell us about finding out you’d won this Golden Kite Award.

Jane: My snarky answer is by hard work and not writing to get an award. The true answer is the phone rang and it was Lin. I thought she wanted to talk about either a project we were considering doing together or my decision to leave the board or ask for advice about something else going on. We've been friends since SCBW (without the I) began. And she said that MAPPING THE BONES had won and I (and you know me so this was BIG!) was speechless. Then she said "Who would you want to introduce you and say a few words about you and the book?" And I said, "Can I have two people?" She said, Sure." And I said, "(My daughter) Heidi who gave up the two weeks on a small island in Maine to sit out while the others were kayaking to be my beta reader. She had also been moral support in the 4 1/2 years I worked on the book, and you, Lin, because we have been friends for so long."

Lee: It was a lovely moment. Can you pitch us to move Mapping The Bones to the top of our To-Be-Read pile?

Jane: A Holocaust novel hung on the armature of Hansel & Gretel, set first in Lodz ghetto, then in the forest with the partisans, and lastly in a labor camp. And yes, there's a witch character (A Nazi of course) and an oven.

Lee: Wow. Is there an Ah-ha! Moment from the book’s creation you can share?

Jane: I didn't know until about five chapters from the end who the witch character was going to be though given this was a Nazi camp, I had the oven ready. But since the main characters are twins, Chaim and Gittel. and I'd seeded the Mengele twin experiments earlier, it was just a matter of time till I figured it out.

Lee: How long have you been a member of SCBWI, and how has SCBWI helped on your journey?

Jane: I was actually the second member, right after Sue Alexander who told me about the nascent group started by Lin and Steve. Right after me, or at least the next pro to join after me was Sid Fleischman, so we were the first speakers at the first (not conference) dinner I think there may have been 50 people there, including Lin's parents, my dad, Steve's parents. Sue is, alas, dead as is Sid. But Lin and Steve and I keep plugging along. As for what SCBWI has done for me--given me a huge subset of book friends, some I have introduced to the organization. Others took over the region after I invented New England Region of SCBWI, the very first region and I was the very first regional advisor. I ran it for ten years. and the conference for ten years. And I ran the monthly the critique critique group for 25 years. Trust me, the RAs and their crew do a MUCH better job that I ever did! And now things are no longer just centered in the Pioneer Valley where I lived then and live still.

Lee: What advice do you have to share with other children’s book creators?

Jane: BIC: Butt in Chair. HOP: Heart on Page. Don't clutch your pearls or sob over a rejection. Get up and move on. Be a colleague with your editors, agents, art directors, not an adversary. Learn about the field, go to conferences, workshops, meet-and-greets. Read about the field in books, online, subscribe to Publisher's Weekly, The Horn Book, etc. Read widely in the field. Take chances, learn new skills. I learned to write graphic novels in my 60's and verse novels in my 70's. And volunteer for your local region. You will be surprised at how much you will leaern, how many friends you will make (and how many editors and art directors you will become on a first names basis with!)

Lee: Thank you so much, Jane. And again, Congratulations on your win!

Find out more about Jane Yolen at her website here.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

A "Hot Tip" from Frances Gilbert (Editor-in-Chief, Doubleday Books for Young Readers) On Keeping Up On The Industry

How do you know who publishes what? Where can you get a comprehensive glance at what each publisher—what each imprint—is publishing? How do you know where your book might fit?

Frances Gilbert highlights an upcoming title

Frances Gilbert, at this past week's SCBWI Los Angeles Writers Day Conference, suggested Edelweiss.plus, a free resource that lets you look at (and study) publishers' catalogs.

Check it out here.

Thanks, Frances!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Advice from Natalie Goldberg in "Writing Down The Bones" (part 2)

There's so much that's worthwhile in Natalie Goldberg's landmark melding of Zen and Writing, Writing Down The Bones: Freeing the Writer Within.

Today, I'm sharing another resonant moment, from the chapter, Make Statements and Answer Questions (pg. 93 of the 2005 print version):

In the early seventies there was a study done on women and language that affected me very deeply and also affected my writing. One of the things the study said was that women add on qualifiers to their statements. For instance, “The Vietnam war is awful, isn't it?” “I like this, don't you?” In their sentence structure women were always looking for reinforcement for their feelings and opinions. They didn't just make statements and stand behind them: “This is beautiful.” “This is terrible.” They needed encouragement from outside themselves. (By the way, what they found to be true for women they also mentioned was true for minorities.)

Another thing women did in their speech was to use a lot of words like perhaps, maybe, somehow. Indefinite modifiers. For instance, “Somehow it happened.” As though the force were beyond understanding and left the woman powerless. “Maybe I'll go.” Again, not a clear assertive statement like “Yes, I'll go.”

The world isn't always black and white. A person may not be sure if she can go some place, but it is important, especially for a beginning writer, to make clear, assertive statements. “This is good.” “It was a blue horse.” Not “Well, I know it sounds funny, but I think perhaps it was a blue horse.” Making statements is practice in trusting your own mind, in learning to stand up for your thoughts.

After I read the article, I went home and looked at a poem I had just written. I made myself take out all vague, indefinite words and phrases. It felt as though I were pulling towels off my body, and I was left standing naked after a shower, exposing who I really was and how I felt. It was scary the first time, but it felt good. It made the poem much better.

So important to hear, to consider, to look at our own words and consider if we're avoiding the truth of what we want to say. And then being brave enough to take the towels off, one indefinite modifier and qualifier at a time.

Thank you, Natalie!

Check out the whole book, in print or audio, and Natalie's website here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Advice from Natalie Goldberg in "Writing Down The Bones" (part 1)

I'm listening to the audiobook version of Writing Down The Bones: Freeing The Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg, the 1986 book that is widely credited with synthesizing Zen and Writing. It's a version that Natalie recorded fourteen years after the book was first published, and in-between each chapter she shares what's changed, how her thoughts have matured, and additional elements of what she observed then and understands now.

There's so much that's useful and insightful in here, so this week I'll share two stand-outs.

Today, from the Chapter Original Detail (pg. 45 of the 2005 print edition)

Use original detail in your writing. Life is so rich, if you can write down the real details of the way things were and are, you hardly need anything else. Even if you transport the beveled windows, slow-rotating Rheingold sign, Wise potato chip rack, and tall red stools from the Aero Tavern that you drank in in New York in a bar in a story in another state and time, the story will have authenticity and groundedness.”

This is so true, and such a good reminder! Natalie continues,

“‘Oh, no, that bar was on Long Island, I can't put it in New Jersey’—yes, you can. You don't have to be rigid about original detail. The imagination is capable of detail transplants, but using the details you actually know and have seen will give your writing believability and truthfulness. It creates a good solid foundation from which you can build.”

Excellent advice. The whole book is well-worth reading (or listening to.)

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep - A New Blog Series Hosted by Melissa Stewart on "Celebrate Science"!

Inspired by this quote from Laura Purdie Salas,
“There’s a common, crushing misconception that fiction is creative writing drawn from the depths of a writer’s soul, while nonfiction is simply a recitation of facts that any basic robot could spit out.

The reality is very different. I think my personality, my beliefs, and my experiences are deeply embedded in the books I end up writing ” —Laura Purdie Salas

Melissa turns the spotlight on 33 other authors of nonfiction for kids in this ongoing series "Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep." It's packed insights into their process, tips, and inspiration, and is well-worth checking out!

As Melissa explains in this launch post,
“Again and again, what you’ll hear is that crafting nonfiction involves much more than just cobbling together a bunch of facts. The books we choose to write and the perspectives we choose to explore are often closely linked to who we are as people and our experiences in the world. Nonfiction writers—all writers—have to dig deep. If we don’t, our writing will fall flat, and no one will want to read it.

Our passion for a project, our author purpose, is what drives us to dedicate years of our lives to a single manuscript. It spurs us on despite the obstacles and setbacks, and of course, through the inevitable criticism and rejections.” —Melissa Stewart

Some highlights from the series so far:

Laurie Wallmark

“Writers are often told to write what they know. As far as I’m concerned, we should write what we’re passionate about. We can always research (and who doesn’t like research?) a topic, but if we’re not interested in it—boring!

Which brings me to why I write about women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math). Doing so lets me combine two of my passions—STEM and equal opportunity for all.” —Laurie Wallmark

And Laurie Ann Thompson, who shared about the long process behind writing Emmanuel’s Dream,
“At one point, my well-meaning and incredibly supportive husband said something along the lines of, “Why are you [an able-bodied white woman from Wisconsin] writing this story anyway? Maybe it’s time to move on to something you know more about.” I had to wonder if maybe he was right. What did I have in common with Emmanuel? Why was I writing this story in the first place?

It turns out these were just the questions I needed to ask to come up with an approach that finally worked. You see, I’d had all the facts lined up in a satisfying order, but what was missing was… me. I’d been so focused on writing the facts that I’d carefully removed all of my own feelings about it. But isn’t authentic human emotion just another kind of truth? And isn’t it, perhaps, the most important kind of truth we can share with one another?

When I finally sat down and got clear about my “why” for telling that story, the “how” to best tell it revealed itself almost immediately. For me, it isn’t really a story about having a disability or even Emmanuel himself. It’s about being left out and overlooked, feeling frustrated by injustice and inequality, and wanting to make the world a better place.

Those are all things I felt deeply as a child, and things I can still relate to as an adult. The book reveals as much about me, I think, as it does about Emmanuel.” —Laurie Ann Thompson

And Steve Swinburne, who shares,

“I wrote Safe in a Storm (Scholastic, 2017) shortly after the 9/11 attack on the United States. I felt like we’d been struck by a storm that day. As I thought about what I could write after the initial shock and grief subsided, I began, as I often do, to view writing ideas through the lens of nature.

How do animals survive storms? For instance, how do a whale and her calf ride out an ocean squall?

And, yes, it took 15 years to find a publishing home for Safe in a Storm, but I never gave up. I kept on believing in this story about how animals find cozy places to keep them safe and warm, no matter how loud the storm rumbles or how dark the night gets. Bear cubs huddled together in a den, mom and baby owl nestled in a sturdy tree, and a bobcat family sheltering on a ledge, all while the winds and rain bluster and blow. I kept on believing in the protective, healing power of home and family.” —Steve Swinburn
It's a wonderful series. Check it out here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

A Conversation with Jenny Bent - Listen to the latest SCBWI Podcast!

Jenny Bent founded The Bent Agency in 2009. The agency now has nine agents, offices in New York City and London, and a focus on international rights. Jenny speaks to Theo Baker about the difference between Y.A. and Adult, what she's looking for, the decision to launch her own agency, what happened that changed her approach to agenting, and much more!

Listen to the episode trailer here.

Current SCBWI members can listen to the full episode here (log in first).

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Lindsey Lane Writes About "Reframing the Reality" of Books Going Out Print

Hosted on Cynthia Leitich Smith's indispensable Cynsations website, Lindsey Lane dives into the reality of books going out of print in this four-part series.

Part One dives into some publishing numbers and the culling of books from library collections. The bottom line, when going out of print happens to your book, is that it shouldn't be a surprise.

As Lindsey writes, a book going out of print “is part [of] its life cycle.”

Check out the whole series as it publishes on Cynsations. Well-worth reading.

Links to help:

Part One - An overview

Part Two - Six authors, illustrators, and author/illustrators weigh in with their perspective 

Part Three - Three agents weigh in

Part Four - Three editors share their take

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Craft Wisdom from Stephen King

"Description begins in the writer's imagination, but should finish in the reader's." —Stephen King, pg. 137 of "On Writing"

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is well-worth reading, or listen to the audiobook. (I don't know that I'll ever look at adverbs the same way again.)

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Daniel Stolle's "50 tips that will make you a better illustrator"

Find what resonates for you among these pearls of wisdom from Daniel Stolle's article on Creative Bloq.

Paper is one of the oldest technologies we have. Cultural creation has been based on it for millennia. Let's not abandon it just yet, especially in the early stages of a project.

While you're studying illustration – either formally, or by yourself – you are exposed to great work by others. You feel jealous of your peers and in awe of the masters. You're inspired, you're confused, you try to create, and then you're frustrated by what you produce and how badly it compares. And in spite of it all, you're still driven to make something, so you try again. Although you are dealing a lot with your emotions in that whole turbulent process, you might not have learned to observe yourself and what you are doing yet. To be successful, you need to find out a lot of things about yourself first: What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? This is easier said than done, but start with simple things first. For example, what are your most productive working hours? Whether you work best at 6am or midnight, don't miss out on these hours, and try to plan the rest of your day around them. Once your needs are taken care of, you will become less anxious. You are the person you have to work with for the rest of your life, so get to know yourself. Be disciplined, of course, but also be accepting and tolerant.
it's a list of advice that's well-worth checking out.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Ten Inspirational #NY19SCBWI Highlights from the SCBWI Winter 2019 Conference!

So many amazing moments, so much wisdom shared, and so much inspiration...


“What a privilege I have to be welcomed into the imagination of kids. What a responsibility I have to give them my best work.” - Jarret Krosoczka


‘Don’t just plot the story. Plot the characters.’ — Varian Johnson


"don't just change the skin color and think you've drawn diverse characters" talking truth around in and to draw difference with accuracy and empathy


Write for your audience. "Other people will learn to read it." — Elizabeth Acevedo


“...remember that you, that I, are worthy of every poem.” Elizabeth Acevedo


I love this distinction by Marla Frazee on picture books: It’s not the author and the illustrator who collaborate. It’s the *words* and the *pictures* that must collaborate.


"The goal is to construct the kind of art that can change outcomes." We children's book creators create opportunities. When kids see it in our books, they can imagine creating opportunities for themselves. — Cornelius Minor

"You can't be what you can't see." — Julia Torres

"You need multiple conflicts." — Alvina Ling

"There needs to be a purpose for every character in the story." And for each character in each scene. — Emma Dryden

"Voice = Word Choice + Rhythm.
 Rhythm  is two things: Punctuation and Sentence Length."
It may be hard to do, but it's not hard to define. — Linda Sue Park

What are your highlights? Share them in comments...

Thursday, February 7, 2019

#NY19SCBWI Starts Tomorrow!

With the Golden Kite Awards ceremony kicking things off Friday night, Saturday and Sunday should be a whirlwind mix of keynotes (Elizabeth Acevedo! Jarrett Krosoczka! Christopher Paul Curtis!), an agent and editor panel (Maria Barbo! Sarah Davies! Kate Egan! Tanusri Prasanna! Alexander Slater! Mekisha Telfer!), intensive breakout sessions, networking, peer critiques, socials, and book signings!

Follow along (and chime in) online with #NY19SCBWI

And check out the SCBWI Conference Blog for live blogging the keynotes and panel!

Illustrate and Write On!