Thursday, November 26, 2015

"All Four Stars" – The 2015 Crystal Kite Interview with Tara Dairman

In the Southwest division, the 2015 Crystal Kite Award goes to "All Four Stars" by SCBWI Rocky Mountain member Tara Dairman!

Author Tara Dairman

Lee: Please tell us about your Crystal-Kite winning book!

Tara: ALL FOUR STARS is a middle-grade novel about 11-year-old foodie Gladys Gatsby, who secretly becomes a restaurant critic for New York's biggest newspaper. It's my first novel (though it was a nine-year process to get from first words of the first draft to publication day!). Believe it or not, it was inspired a bit by real life; I used to work as a magazine editor in New York, and I published pieces by a lot of freelance writers that I never met in person or even talked to on the phone. All of our communicating would be done by e-mail. So it struck me one day that a kid who was a really good writer could probably hoodwink me into publishing her, and voilà: the premise for ALL FOUR STARS was born. 

Lee: How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you’ve gained by being a member?

Tara: I joined SCBWI in 2013, after I'd been offered a book deal for ALL FOUR STARS but before it was published. I attended my first regional conference in Denver that fall, and have been involved in the organization since. I especially love attending our local "schmooze"* meetings in Boulder, which are a less formal way to connect with fellow writers at all stages of the writing and publishing process.  

I love the many opportunities SCBWI has given me to learn from my published peers, who have been so generous about speaking on panels and presenting at conferences. I've also had the pleasure of speaking at a couple of local gatherings and sharing what I've learned about publishing with writers who may be working on their first books or just getting ready to query agents. 

The children's literature community--and SCBWI in particular--is so incredibly supportive. I wish that I had known about it and joined up when I was just starting out, but I'm happy to be a part of it now. 

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children’s book writers and illustrators?

Tara: Reading is the best education. Read widely in whatever genre you're working in, especially recently published titles--it will help you understand what's selling now. Read to the point where the nuts and bolts of storytelling become innate for you. Also, if you don't already have one, try to form a critique group, and meet regularly. Your first responsibility to a creative project is to finish it, and feedback and encouragement from your peers can go a long way toward making that happen.

Thanks, Tara!

I also contacted the SCBWI Rocky Mountain RAs Todd Tuell and Lindsay Eland, who shared this:
I first met Tara at one of our fall conferences before All Four Stars released and have gotten to know her better recently--she is absolutely lovely! Ever since our first meeting with each other she has slowly started to get more and more involved and connected into the SCBWI community here in the Rocky Mountains She has been active at the Boulder Schmoozes (now called Connect), participating most recently in a panel about how members found their agents.

The Rocky Mountain Chapter is one of the largest and, having just celebrated our 39th anniversary, one of the oldest in the SCBWI community. Supporting a large geographic area consisting of over 600 members across Colorado and Wyoming poses a challenge. But more than 20 volunteers and nearly 120 P.A.L. members help provide the backbone of the region. P.A.L. members are called upon and so graciously agree to serve as mentors in our Mentorship Program and promote local authors and illustrators along with our organization at other literary and education events such as the Colorado Teen Lit Conference and our regional council of the International Reading Association. We also call upon them to teach at chapter events both locally and on a larger scale including our Fall Letters & Lines Conference as well as at the Big Sur in the Rockies workshop in partnership with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. We are also very proud of our creative communities within the larger chapter community. Local Area Coordinators host regular Connect gatherings throughout the region from Denver, Fort Collins, and Boulder to Grand Junction, Pueblo and Colorado Spring with a brand new volunteer coming on to host in Cheyenne.

Learn more about Tara at her website here.

And discover more about SCBWI Rocky Mountain at their online home here.

Congratulations again to Tara on "All Four Stars" winning the 2015 Crystal Kite Award!

*note: Schmoozes are now called "Mingles"and in some areas "connect" and while the names may have changed, the warmth and gathering of our kid lit community has not!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Wall Street Journal Writes About Debut Novel Advances For Over A Million Dollars

"There is no science to it, or even art. It's a business of hunches." 

-Agent Bill Clegg, an agent whose September literary debut, "Did You Ever Have a Family," sold for seven figures in a two-book deal, as quoted in Betting Big on Literary Newcomers: The publishing industry's hunt for the next blockbuster has given rise to an elite new club: the million-dollar literary debut.

Citing nine literary debut novels that will be released between 2014 and 2016 with "advances reported at $1 million or more," what sounds like a trend in the article by Jennifer Maloney is a mix of wish-fulfillment...

"The lack of a sales track record is one of the factors that makes debut authors most appealing, publishers say, because there is no hard data to dampen expectations. "You can pin all your hopes and dreams and fantasies on a debut novel," said Eric Simonoff, an agent known for negotiating seven-figure advances.

and cautionary tale...

"...if the book doesn't turn a profit, the relationship between the author and publisher can sour. And those disappointing sales figures are available for any other publisher to peruse when the author tries to sell her next novel. "That is a scarlet letter that you don't get out from under," literary agent Luke Janklow said.
And while it's good for the nine authors (and their agents) -- so long as the book is deemed a success -- it's certainly open to discussion if this is good for other book creators and the industry as a whole.

As Morgan Entrekin, publisher at the independent house Grove Atlantic put it, "It's not that they're betting on the wrong writer, it's that the bet's too big."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo!" – The 2015 Crystal Kite Interview with Jill Esbaum

In the Midwest division, the 2015 Crystal Kite Award goes to "I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo!" by SCBWI Iowa member Jill Esbaum!

Author Jill Esbaum

Lee: Please tell us about your Crystal-Kite winning book!

Jill: I AM COW, HEAR ME MOO! is the rhyming story of a not-scared-of-anything cow, Nadine. At least that’s what she brags to her friends. When they call her bluff and ask her to lead an expedition into the nearby scary woods, she has to do the deed or lose face. Turns out, she LOVES the woods and can’t get enough of its wonders … until she and her friends become separated. And it gets dark. And she starts worrying about bears. When an unknown something tickles her rump (her own tail) she panics, galloping headlong through the dark and straight off a cliff. Luckily, she lands in a handy creek, where she is reunited with her lost friends, who are thrilled that Nadine has come to their rescue. She doesn’t exactly correct them, which leads to further (implied) complications. 

I couldn’t be happier with Gus Gordon’s whimsical illustrations, which add exactly the right touch of goofiness to the story. 

Lee: How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you’ve gained by being a member?

Jill: I’ve been a member for 18 years, and I’d probably still be spinning my wheels if not for the connections I’ve made through SCBWI. I’ve met editors and agents, stellar authors, and some of my best friends. I knew nothing about writing when I started out, so having the opportunity to learn from industry leaders was invaluable. Winning a Crystal Kite for my work was something I couldn’t even imagine happening. It’s one surprise I’ll treasure forever. 

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children’s book writers and illustrators?

Jill: When writing (or illustrating) for publication, it’s easy to let rejection get you down. But every failure is a stepping stone to success. I know that sounds trite when you’re the one amassing the rejections, but it really is all about attitude and determination. And constantly working to improve. Never give up.

Thanks, Jill!

I also connected with Connie Heckert, the Regional Advisor for SCBWI Iowa, to find out more about Jill's win and their region:

SCBWI-Iowa hosts two regional events per calendar year, usually a conference in April and a retreat or different event in October. Locations are varied between Des Moines, the Quad-Cities and cities in between, most recently the Amana Colonies. Industry speakers--authors, editors, illustrators and art directors, and literary agents--are flown in from all over the United States. PAL events have featured industry business-level speakers, such as Susan Raab and others. This region prides itself on smaller attendance with a high quality for one-on-one contact with industry professionals.

Our network system supports members and guests in the major cities of membership with low-cost, no-cost events such as children's book discussions, manuscript critiques, and network area speakers. Mentorships are offered annually, based on available of mentors. One year we had three; for 2015-2016, we're offering two: Jill Esbaum will focus on picture books, and Connie Heckert is working with an aspiring novelist. Jill is working for the third time as a mentor, and is one PAL member who continues to attend our events and give back to other writers and illustrators.
Thanks, Connie!

Learn more about Jill at her website here.

And you can find out more about SCBWI Iowa here.

Congratulations again to Jill on "I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo!" winning the 2015 Crystal Kite Award!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"Petu Pumpkin: Tooth Troubles" – The 2015 Crystal Kite Interview with Arundhati Venkatesh

In the Middle East/India/Asia Division, the 2015 Crystal Kite Award goes to "Petu Pumpkin: Tooth Troubles" by SCBWI India member Arundhati Venkatesh!

Author Arundhati Venkatesh

Lee: Please tell us about your Crystal-Kite winning book!

Arundhati: Petu Pumpkin Tooth Troubles is an early chapter book with quirky characters and delightful illustrations. About the book: The Gap Club has challenged the Fourth Graders to a football match. But they cannot practise unless they get a football! The fate of the match rests on Petu Pumpkin’s tooth. Will it fall in time? 

Petu Pumpkin has to deal with tooth troubles of all sorts – being left out of the Gap Club, a shaky tooth and the prospect of starvation, an unobliging tooth fairy and, thanks to a hilarious turn of events, ferocious dogs! 

Lee: How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you’ve gained by being a member?

Arundhati: I’ve been an SCBWI member since 2013, which I think is when the SCBWI India chapter was revived. The workshops and First Pages discussions have been immensely beneficial. Feedback is so hard to come by, and can be so crucial when you’re struggling alone with a story. The SCBWI-organised events brought me in touch with experts who were extremely generous with their time and skills. Perhaps the biggest benefit – and this is something that cannot be measured – is belonging to a warm, supportive community of writers, illustrators, editors, magic-weavers of all kinds. 

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children’s book writers and illustrators?

Arundhati: No advice, but a realization I came to after months of anguish and several unfinished manuscripts - Writer’s block is a mix of ego and insecurity. That’s what it is every time I find myself churning out rubbish. I need to be by myself, confront my fears and get rid of my ego so I can surrender to the story and let it lead me.

Thanks, Arundhati!

SCBWI India has members in Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida, Faridabad, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Pune, Jabalpur, Kota, Leh and Auroville. They have "several workshops and conferences planned in the coming months." You can find out more about SCBWI India at the region's website here.

To find out more about Arundhati and her books, visit her online here.

Congratulations Arundhati, on "Petu Pumpkin: Tooth Troubles" winning the 2015 Crystal Kite Award!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

"Abby Spencer Goes To Bollywood" - The 2015 Crystal Kite Interview with Varsha Bajaj

In the Texas/Oklahoma division, the 2015 Crystal Kite Award goes to "Abby Spencer Goes To Bollywood," by SCBWI Texas: Houston member Varsha Bajaj.

Author Varsha Bajaj

Lee: Please tell us about your Crystal-Kite winning book!

Varsha: "Abby Spencer goes to Bollywood" is the story of thirteen year Abby, who discovers that her absent father is a Bollywood star. Her everyday life in Houston, Texas, is turned upside down when she is invited to India by her father. It is a story of adventure, travel, romance and searching for one’s identity.

Lee: How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you’ve gained by being a member?

Varsha: I joined SCBWI Houston in 2000. In 2001, I sold my first picture book manuscript, "How Many Kisses Do You Want Tonight" (Illustrated by Ivan Bates, LB, 2004). Thanks to Editor’s Day, I had the opportunity to submit a manuscript to an editor from a closed house. 

I have honed my craft, made invaluable friendships, learned the ropes and found my tribe, thanks to the many SCBWI conferences and workshops I have attended. 

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children’s book writers and illustrators?

Varsha: The Children’s Literature community can be amazingly supportive and welcoming. SCBWI can be your teacher, your friend and guide through the difficult and uncharted journey of becoming a published author. 

Read. Read everything and anything you can get your hands on. There is no substitute for reading. No shortcuts without reading. 

Dedicate yourself to refining your craft and grab every opportunity possible.

Thanks, Varsha!

I also contacted SCBWI Texas (Houston)'s Regional Advisor, Vicki Sansum, to find out more about both their region and Varsha's win. Here's what Vicki shared:

We were thrilled when Varsha won this year. This the third year in a row that a member from our chapter has won our region's Crystal Kite Award!

Varsha has been a long-time member and was our conference chairman for several years. Her path to publishing is a true SCBWI success story. It was at one of our events, Editors Day, that she submitted a picture book manuscript. Shortly after that submission Varsha sold her first book, How Many Kisses Do You Want Tonight? to Little Brown. It was published in 2004 and subsequently was published as a board book and is still in print today.

Varsha is generous with her time, knowledge and experience. We're lucky to have her in our chapter and are so happy that she won the Crystal Kite this year for such a delightful book.

There are over 300 members in the Houston chapter. We have monthly meetings with a speaker; topics include writing all types of genres, illustration, how to market a book, social media, etc. We're lucky to have a lot of wonderful volunteers who help organize our events such as our annual conference which has 200 attendees. We also host smaller workshops and along with the other Texas chapters we host webinars that focus on a particular genre, market or skill.

Our members range from those who are just starting their writing/illustrating careers to those who are multi-published. Those with years of experience are generous with sharing their knowledge by speaking at our meetings, workshops and through critique groups. We're fortunate to have a vibrant group of talented folks that make up our fabulous chapter. 

Thanks Vicki!

You can find out more at Varsha's website here.

And you can learn more about SCBWI Texas (Houston) at their website here.

Congratulations again to Varsha for "Abby Spencer Goes To Bollywood" winning the 2015 Crystal Kite Award!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Great Advice For Authors About Social Media

Check out this great article by Hannah Ehrlich, Director of Marketing and Publicity at LEE & LOW BOOKS.

Marketing 101: The Best Social Media Platform For Authors is great starting out advice. The opening paragraph set the stage well:

"One of the questions I get most often from authors—both new and experienced—is, “Which social media platforms do I have to be on?” There are a lot of ways to answer this question but I want to start by addressing the question itself, which is often phrased in exactly this way. The answer is: you don’t have to be on any social media platforms that you don’t want to be on. Social media can help you connect with new readers, raise your discoverability, and sell books, but it can also be a drain on your time, attention, and ideas. Social media is not for everybody, and not every platform is for every writer. So the first thing to do is let go of the guilt and pressure you feel to be on every social media platform that exists, posting content in real time. Almost no authors can pull this off and it’s not worth losing your sanity to attempt it."

It's well-worth reading.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, November 5, 2015

"Faking Normal" – The 2015 Crystal Kite Interview With Courtney Stevens

In the Mid-South Division, the 2015 Crystal Kite Award goes to "Faking Normal" by SCBWI Midsouth member Courtney Stevens!

Photo of Courtney Stevens by Jen & Chris Creed, 2013

Lee: Please tell us about your Crystal-Kite winning book!

Courtney: Faking Normal is the story of two teenagers, Alexi and Bodee, who have been through terrible circumstances over the previous summer. These two characters have really only shared next door lockers and homeroom, but over the course of the novel they will share their secrets, a home, and hope. My initial pitch for the book was what if Melinda from Speak met Peeta from the Hunger Games

From the official copy: Alexi Littrell hasn’t told anyone what happened to her over the summer by her backyard pool. Instead, she hides in her closet, counts the slats in the air vent, and compulsively scratches the back of her neck, trying to make the outside hurt more than the inside does—and deal with the trauma. When Bodee Lennox—“the Kool-Aid Kid”—moves in with the Littrells after a family tragedy, Alexi discovers an unlikely friend in this quiet, awkward boy who has secrets of his own. As their friendship grows, Alexi gives him the strength to deal with his past, and Bodee helps her summon the courage to find her voice and speak up about the rape that has changed the course of her life. 

Lee: How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you’ve gained by being a member?

Courtney: I joined SCBWI in the Spring of 2009. What have I gained? Wow, how many pages do I have to answer that question? In the spirit of space: wisdom, knowledge, an agent, three contracts (five published products), encouragement, a network of professionals, family, friends ... everything. 

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children’s book writers and illustrators?

Courtney: Every time you hit a gap in the publishing field between what you want and what you have, the answer is to study. You can study in a variety of ways--conferences, books, mentors, blogs, intensives, etc.--but you must keep learning if you want to make a career of writing.

Thanks, Courtney!

I also contacted SCBWI Midsouth (Tennessee/Kentucky) Regional Advisor Kristin O'Donnell Tubb to find out more about Courtney and their region...

I had the honor of reading "Faking Normal" in its earliest draft – way back when it was still titled "23!" – and knew the moment I reached The End that it would be a book someday. "Faking Normal" is special and deep and looks you straight in the eye and gives you honesty mixed with gentleness - just like Court. Court has served as the Midsouth’s coARA for three years, and recently moved into the role of PAL Coordinator. I know of no one who fosters and cares for their writing community more than Court. She is one of the many reasons the Midsouth has the heart and soul that it does.

I’m delighted that the 2015 shiny, beautiful SCBWI Crystal Kite Award was awarded to the shiny, beautiful Court–Courtney Stevens.

To find out more about Courtney and her books, visit her website/blog Quartland.

And discover more about SCBWI Midsouth here.

Congratulations again to Courtney for "Faking Normal" winning the 2015 Crystal Kite Award!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What I Learned From Writing 52 Picture Books In One Year – A Guest Post on Success by David McMullin

David McMullin 


Leap and the net will appear. So I leapt.

One year ago, I quit my job, sold everything I owned, and headed for Asia. I spread my arms into full swan-dive position and began the plunge.

My plan was to write. I’d been writing for years, but something always kept me from taking the next step. Oh yes, it’s called … life.

With so much at stake, I needed to find a way to give myself every opportunity to build that net: something challenging, realistic, and powerful. This is how The 52 First Drafts Project was born.

The project? I decided to write 52 picture books in one year. In my time as an SCBWI member, one message kept leaping out at me: to become a better writer, you need to write. Simple. Write bad, write sloppy, write tired, write grumpy. And writing well is acceptable too. It doesn’t matter, just write. Every piece will inform the next.

My strategy was straightforward. Write all week, and finish by a deadline. I chose Tuesdays, no excuses. I was not concerned about the length, genre, or quality. Where would I get the ideas? Where would I find the energy? Would I make it to the end?

Earlier this month, on a hot, Tuesday morning in Merida, Mexico (I’ve moved on since Asia); I completed my 52nd picture book. Hurray! Toot, toot. That would be my own horn.

Those were 52 opportunities to learn, and 52 opportunities to grow. Did I? I did.

Growth happens quicker when you are proactive, so I read blogs and books about the craft and the publishing industry. I studied hundreds of picture books. I listened to podcasts, attended conferences and classes, and worked with my fantastic critique group. I also blogged about my journey. I gave myself every opportunity to succeed.

It wasn’t always easy. Sometimes I struggled through weeks when I floundered with every word. But as I flipped the pages in my calendar, things changed. Writing became easier. I became more daring. I was willing to try new styles and write with more abandon.

In the end, I couldn’t believe the variety that came out of my pencil: from fables to LGBTQ, quirky to bedtime, holiday to concept. My experiences in places like Indonesia and the Philippines inspired me to create multicultural offerings. I even wrote a song … it was terrible, but I did it. My characters were human, animal, inanimate, mythical and monster. Stories revealed themselves in first and third person, past and present tense, rhyme and prose, with word counts from 24 to 1600.

My takeaways are many. Here are the highlights.

-The importance of each word. When working with so few words, each needs to be perfect. I look now at every word and consider its syllables, sounds, meaning, descriptiveness, difficulty and necessity. Say them aloud: individually, in groups, and from beginning to end.

-The importance of page turns. Page turns affect everything in a picture book: rhythm, pauses, scene changes, pacing, flow, readability, anticipation, and tension. The greatest joy of reading a picture book is discovering what is on the next page.

-Writing for illustrations. When I started, this idea scared me. I couldn’t see how an editor would understand my story if I didn’t lay everything out for her. I’ve changed. Now I ask myself these questions. Do I need to say this, or will the illustrations show it? Will this story be interesting to look at? Will it be fun for an illustrator to work on? Am I giving the illustrator freedom to be creative? 

-Generating ideas. I didn’t think I could possibly come up with 52 good stories until I did. Coming up with ideas is a skill that needs to be developed and I had lots of time to practice. Over the year’s time, I conceived hundreds of ideas. It has become habit; I now find myself jotting down fresh ideas every day.

Now for the big picture. Two lessons stand out that will serve me throughout the rest of my career as an author.

First is control. It is so easy to feel as if you have no control in this business. Standing between you and a published book are agents, publishers and dozens of others. Though they are our allies, we give them control over our literary lives. The 52 First Drafts Project was my way of taking back that control. Do I still need agents and publishers? Of course I do, but now I’m not just sitting and waiting. I’m doing everything I can to be ready for them when they are ready for me.

Second is confidence. After writing 52 books in a year, I know I can do anything I put my mind to. The children’s literature community is the most encouraging and welcoming group I know. But even so, when you are a pre-published author, it’s easy to feel like you’re tagging along. This project makes me feel like I belong at the party—not because of what I have done, but because of what I know I am capable of.

Has this year been a success? Yes, YES, and some synonym for yes that means so much more than simply yes. The 52 First Drafts Project has gifted me with stronger craft skills, control over my career, and confidence. And how could I forget … dozens of terrific stories. For now, I’m happy with that.

This project was all about improvement. I encourage everyone to set goals and seek your own success. Big or small, start today. If you need a cheerleader, I’m here.

Did my net appear? Yes, and I landed squarely in the middle. To my delight, writing is a series of adventurous leaps, and I find myself tumbling through the air once again.

You can find out more about David by visiting his website here.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Are You NaNoWriMo-ing? Here's some advice and strategies from 2,000 writers who've done it in the past...

National Novel Writing Month is a great way to get that first draft done, but it's still just a first draft. No submitting your NaNoWriMo novels to agents or editors on December 1st!!! You've got revisions, and feedback from trusted critique partners, and then more revisions before you get there.

But as they say, you can't edit a blank page.

So to help you have a great NaNoWriMo November, the Stop Procrastinating folks have put together an infographic that might be inspiring and useful...  

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, October 29, 2015

"Just A Drop Of Water" - The 2015 Crystal Kite Interview with Kerry Cerra

In the Southeast division, the 2015 Crystal Kite Award goes to "Just a Drop of Water" by SCBWI Florida member Kerry Cerra.

Author Kerry Cerra

Lee: Hi Kerry, please tell us about your Crystal-Kite winning book!

Kerry: Just a Drop of Water is a middle grade book set in Coral Springs, Florida. It tells the story of two thirteen-year-old boys—one Christian, one Muslim—and how their friendship is tested in the wake of 9/11. 

That’s the short pitch of it, but it’s also a book about loyalty, family relationships, friendship, and most importantly…peace. While the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 were tragic, I hope we can learn from them. Acceptance is the key to peace, and that begins with children. I don’t mean acceptance of terrorism, but acceptance of religious, cultural, racial, and all other differences to eventually create a world where we can live side by side. I hope that Just a Drop of Water is a step in that direction.

Lee: Can you share how the middle grade novel came about for you, premise to evolution to manuscript?

Kerry: Pretty quickly after the 9/11 attacks, it was discovered that Mohamed Atta—the lead hijacker of the plane that flew into the north tower in New York City—lived in our Florida town. Fear was already heightened throughout America, but this information almost paralyzed me. I had three small kids, and I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d seen Atta around town somewhere. 

At the same time these scenarios were running though my head, I discovered that a close college friend—who is Muslim—was having a difficult time and that his parents, who lived in the Florida town where the terrorists took flight lessons, were being questioned by the FBI. I wish I could say I believed their innocence in that moment, but it would be a lie. I’ve never really forgiven myself for that. Once my head cleared and the fear subsided a little, I knew—with all that is in me—that they were innocent. I started to wonder why I had doubted them in the first place. And, I wondered if my kids, at their young ages, would have ever doubted their friends. At what age does one go from trusting and innocent, to fearful and jaded? These questions wouldn’t let up in my mind, and I may have begun subconsciously plotting this novel before I even realized it. 

Having said that, I’m a pretty shy person—that kid in the back of the classroom who never raised her hand. But I hate injustice! Prior to September 11, I was never one to publicly speak out against anything. When I heard about some of the things my Muslims friends endured in the weeks following 9/11 and heard some of the stories of hate crimes being committed against Muslims and to mosques around the country, something sparked in me and I knew I had to write this story. We cannot be the same people the terrorists are. We cannot lump people together by religion, culture, race, or any other means of discrimination. I am afraid of terrorists. I have some fears about Islam because I don’t know it well. But, I do not fear my Islamic friend because I know him. We have to remember the humanness of every individual person and treat them accordingly. This novel is my way of reaching the one age group I have the most hope for regarding our country’s future. Kids. If they can learn to accept people for their differences and work together instead of against each other, then I think there’s a lot of hope for the future. Just a Drop of Water is my way of finally speaking out, publicly.

Lee: How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you’ve gained by being a member?

Kerry: I’ve been a member of SCBWI since 2006 and have loved every single minute of it—especially the conferences. I remember my first one and could hardly speak a word because I felt like I was surrounded by all these rock stars. Seriously. But our Florida chapter is filled with gracious, down-to-earth writers who cheer each other on and who pick you up off the floor when you want to quit. Maybe I would have fulfilled my dream of getting published without SCBWI, but it definitely wouldn’t have been as much fun or as rewarding.

For now, all I really know are my Florida SCBWI pals. Someday, I would love to be able to attend the New York or LA conference and mingle and be inspired by even more writers and illustrators. Goals!

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children’s book writers and illustrators?

Kerry: There are so many words of wisdom I’d love to share, but I think the most important thing is this. Trust yourself…in your writing, in your submission process, in selecting an agent, in considering a publishing house, in everything! Your gut will not steer you wrong. I cannot tell you how many editors and agents told me to give up on Just a Drop of Water. Some said the world wasn’t ready for a 9/11 book. Some couldn’t believe I’d written a 9/11 book that wasn’t set in New York. Some said even though they loved it, they’d never be able to sell it. But, I knew the story was important. And I wanted to tell it. I’d done my homework and was confident that there was a market and a need for a story like this. It would have been easy to stick the manuscript in a drawer—as was recommended to me so many times—and never pursue its publication, but I trusted my gut and kept at it. And look at it now. It’s won awards and made state reading lists. I’m so grateful that the book is reaching students all over and giving them a glimpse of what those days following 9/11 were like. Never give up on something you believe in. You are your book’s best advocate.

Thanks, Kerry!

As an added bonus, I reached out to Katy Betz who designed this Crystal Kite-winning book's cover. Here's what she shared:

After reading the manuscript, I completely fell in love with the meaning behind the book title and wanted to express it visually and symbolically. My process always involves creating a mind map to extract imagery from words and piece them together. After doing several sketches, the cover composition finally emerged and it perfectly captured the essence of the story. Once the initial phase of developing the concept was completed and approved, I went on to take photo reference. I actually asked a friend to model for the running legs. We used the lawn hose to create a puddle in the street, and then I asked him to sprint (several times) until I got a great shot of tennis shoes splashing in water. The final artwork is a combination of traditional oil painting and digital painting. 

Thanks Katy!

I also contacted SCBWI Florida RA Linda Bernfeld to find out more about their region:

We are thrilled that Kerry won the Crystal Kite for the Southeast Region. Kerry is hardworking and organized. She wrote her book, Just a Drop of Water, while also giving SCBWI Florida big chunks of her time as Conference Critique Coordinator. Twice a year, she oversees the matching and scheduling of more than 100 manuscripts with editors, agents and writers and setting up times for the face-to-face sessions. It can be a thankless job but she and her team have been successful in creating matches that resulted in contracts for representation and book sales. SCBWI Florida hosts a regional conference in Miami in January and a five-track craft workshop each June in Disney World. We also have Boot Camps Across Florida in September as well as free meetings around the state throughout the year.

Learn more about the author, Kerry Cerra, at this website here.

You can find out more about cover artist Katy here.

And find out lots more about SCBWI Florida here.

Congratulations again to Kerry (and Katy) on "Just A Drop Of Water" winning the 2015 Crystal Kite Award!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Oliver Jeffers teaches us how to draw a penguin

This tutorial in the Guardian by New York Times Best-Selling author/illustrator Oliver Jeffers was really fun - and instructive. (Especially for those of us whose main materials are words and white space.)

Light source, yeah. Good point!

Check it out.

And you can visit Oliver's website here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, October 22, 2015

"Hello From Nowhere" – The 2015 Crystal Kite Interview with Karen Blair

The 2015 Crystal Kite Award in the Australis/New Zealand Division goes to Illustrator Karen Blair for "Hello From Nowhere," written by Raewyn Caisley!

Illustrator Karen Blair, whose "Hello From Nowhere" won a 2015 Crystal Kite Award!

Lee: Please tell us about your Crystal-Kite winning book!

Karen: "Hello From Nowhere" is a picture book about Eve, a girl who lives with her dad in the Nullarbor in Australia’s outback. It is written by Raewyn Caisley who was inspired by her time in this unique environment when she moved from New Zealand to Australia and ran a roadhouse for 2 years. Eve loves living in the middle of Nowhere, but she misses her Nan who has never visited from the city. When she does eventually come, Eve can show her all the wonderful animals and sights that make it so special like 200 kangaroos at dawn or the infinite stars in the night sky. Hello From Nowhere includes themes of place, belonging, family and relationships with the land and people. I felt a connection with the long distance relationship between Eve and her Nan, and that special, intense time of coming together to share everything and then the bittersweet farewell. 

Lee: How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you’ve gained by being a member?

Karen:  I joined SCBWI Australia West in 2007 and was instantly inspired by the people I met. At that stage I was pre-published and although I knew that making children’s books was my dream, I didn’t really know how to go about it. At the first big event I attended, the SCBWI West Conference in 2008, I had the opportunity to meet a publisher, so I created a storyboard and took it to Sarah Foster who was the Publisher at Walker Books Aus/NZ at the time. She gave excellent feedback and although that work was never published, making that contact and having face-to-face communication was so important. Also, hearing her talk about what they were looking for and how they approached books was really important. She went on to publish 3 of my books. Since then I have attended local conferences, meetings, retreats, forged very strong networks and friendships, professional relationships, made further contact with publishers and a mentoring program, illustrated 7 books including Granny Grommet and Me by Dianne Wolfer who was SCBWI Regional Advisor at the time! I love the mix of pre-published or “newbies,” recently published and well-established book creators who are all willing to guide and help each other (as well as have a lot of fun!). Western Australia is very isolated which I think helps to foster a sense of camaraderie amongst our group. SCBWI has really been a very important part of my growth as picture book creator and the support I get from my peers is really incredible. It has also been wonderful to see my friends' careers go from strength to strength. 

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children’s book writers and illustrators?

Karen: I am mostly an illustrator, but I think this holds true for writers as well - keep up your creative “fitness.” I try to sketch as much and as often as I can, doing heap and heaps of practise sketching before doing any final work. Embrace the process - its my favourite part. Also embrace publisher feedback. You can get so caught up in what you think is working, but fresh eyes can point out obvious or even subtle things to change or slightly alter to make the book the best it can be. I have also recently been attending workshops with artist to learn different techniques, since I didn’t do any training to become an illustrator! I just hope I keep getting better in little ways and I can keep enjoying making books that are challenging and make me feel connected to the story and hopefully put a little of that in the illustrations.

Thanks, Karen!

I also checked in with Susanne Gervay, the Regional Advisor for SCBWI Australia East & New Zealand to find out more about Karen and their region. Here's what she shared:

SCBWI Australia and new Zealand love Karen Blair who is one of our new, young talented SCBWI protégés. Enormously gifted, she’s always been a writer and illustrator, like so many children’s book creators. SCBWI welcomed her into the community and she has flourished, receiving awards, publishing contracts and friendship. It’s such a great pleasure to see the support of SCBWI Australia and New Zealand has been part of her creative journey. Being awarded the Crystal Kite Award is our celebration of her talent.

SCBWI Australia East & New Zealand and SCBWI Australia West celebrate so much talent and bring together two countries through children’s books. SCBWI Australia and New Zealand has become the prime organisation for Australian children’s writers and illustrators Down Under. There is enormous energy here, with events, conferences, get together retreats, launches, industry talks, professional and personal friendships. SCBWI is increasing the conduit to most of the writing organisations in Australia and New Zealand including the Children’s Book Council, our Writers Centres, literary festivals and competitions. We are now on a brave new venture called WRITERS in the PARK.
SCBWI leads this festival, collaborating with our historic Centennial Parklands where Australia was declared a nation and The Residences the only heritage houses in the Park where visitors can stay.

Speaking are 50 authors, illustrators and publishers including some of our best and brightest established and emerging SCBWI authors and illustrators. James Foley the new RA from Australia West is flying to Sydney to launch his brilliant new hilarious zombie bunny book, ‘My Dead Bunny'. The malt award winning Anna Pignataro is flying from Melbourne to Writers in the Park where I will launch her beautiful picture book ‘Being Agatha.’ Our talented ARA illustrator Marjorie Crosby-Fairall and IC Sarah Davis who just did the covers for American Girl and has won endless awards are coordinating the illustrator duel and the illustrator hands-on tent.

What’s at Writers in the Park? There are two stages, a cartoonist corner, illustrator SCBWI tent, stands and much more. We have included many literary and literacy organisations from the Society of Women Writers, Room to Read bringing literacy to the children of the developing world, The Footpath Library which provides books to the homeless, to the Charles Dickens Society. How can we have this festival without ‘A Christmas Carol’ and Scrooge. Charles Dickens’ statue stands in Centennial Park, only one of 3 Dickens statues in the world.

Writers in the Park reaches across Australia and New Zealand celebrating books and ideas in this inaugural literary festival. 
hashtag: #writepark

Love SCBWI across the world to join into Writers in the Park through facebook, twitter and support our brave new adventure in the world of children’s books.
Thanks, Susanne!

Learn more about Karen and her illustrations at her website here.

You can find out more about SCBWI Australia East & New Zealand at their regional website here.

Thanks again to Karen and Susanne, and Congratulations again to Karen for "Hello From Nowhere" winning the 2015 Crystal Kite Award!