Thursday, September 6, 2012

The 2012 Crystal Kite Winner Profiles: California's LEE WARDLAW and EUGENE YELCHIN

The last of our 15 winner profiles...

In the USA California/Hawaii division, the 2012 Crystal Kite Member Choice Award Winner was WON TON - A CAT TALE TOLD IN HAIKU by Lee Wardlaw, Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin (Henry Holt.)

I had the chance to find out more from Lee Wardlaw...

Lee Wind:  Hi Lee, congratulations!  Tell us about your book, please.

Lee Wardlaw:  Won Ton – A Cat Tale Told in Haiku is the story of a wary, opinionated shelter cat and the boy who takes him home.  It’s also based on truth:  When my son, Patterson, was eight, his best buddy, our cat Beau, died of cancer. We were all devastated –especially Patterson, because he and Beau had literally grown up together.  After a few months of mourning, Patterson suggested we adopt a new cat, so we visited our local animal shelter to “interview” kittens, an experience which resembled something out of “The Story of the Three Bears”:

“That one is too shy, Mom. This one bites. Ewww! – that one is napping in his litter box! This one…ohhh, this one is just right.”

We adopted the striped Tabby with an orange tummy, and brought him home – where he skittered under a bed and hid for two days. Patterson lured him out at last by dangling a shell lei. We named him Papaya.

As the weeks passed, Papaya and Patterson became comrades-in-paws – snuggling together under blankets, reading together, playing “Chase the Ping-Pong Ball”, even lapping out of the same cereal bowl – and I had a great idea for a new picture book.

But how best to tell the story of a boy, a cat and their growing friendship?

At first, I tried traditional prose – too humdrum.  Then I tried rhyme.  That felt forced, too cutesy, and too young: I wanted this book to appeal to all ages. 

…and then, one day, I thought of haiku. Cats are haiku: they are both deceptively simple; both are beautiful and elegant; they live in the moment; and they both speak volumes in a few meows.  (Haiku aren’t furry, but hey, you can’t have everything.)

If Papaya could talk human, I KNEW he would tell his tale in this unembellished form of poetry. So I started writing the poems from Papya’s point of view, and the rest is hisstory…

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

Lee Wardlaw:  I’ve been a member since ’82 or ’83.  (Can’t remember exactly, as that was at least 7 cats ago.)  As for what I’ve gained in those 30 years?  Whew!   Lots.  But I think I can express it with the acronym CAT:

C is for Connection:  with authors, editors, agents, and other professionals in the field;

A is for Answers:  to questions ranging from ‘How do I format a picture book manuscript?’ to ‘To Tweet or Not to Tweet?’;

T is for Tools:  that help me integrate what I’ve learned from those Connections and Answers to be the best author I can be - - today and tomorrow.  =^..^=

Wow - excellent!  And she even ended it with a cat emoticon!

I also touched base with Eugene to find out about his perspective as the winning illustrator...

Lee Wind:  Hi, Eugene, congratulations!  Can you tell us about the book from your point of view?

Eugene:  Won Ton is about tension between the tough and proud stance and the longing of a lonely heart.

Lee Wind:  That sounds like poetry, too!  Can you share with us what being a member of SCBWI has meant for you?

Eugene:  SCBWI turns you from the outsider into the insider, welcomes you into the community of like-minded artists, and gives you the tools to learn (if you keep your eyes peeled). In 2006 Tomie DePaola chose me to receive his most generous award at the Winter Conference in New York and that gave me confidence to pursue the book making in earnest.

Lee:  I love those SCBWI success stories!  Do you have any advice to share with other children's book writers and illustrators?

Eugene:  Look within yourself for the stories to tell, learn to steal from the right people, and tell the truth.

Ha!  Funny and profound.  And I love hearing those two descriptions of the same book.

I also contacted Alexis O'Neill, Regional Advisor for Lee Wardlaw's SCBWI Central-Coastal California region.  Here's what she wrote:

The SCBWI Central-Coastal California region (formerly known as the Ventura/Santa Barbara region), is small but incredibly active. We run three “big” events including an annual Writers’ Day, a Retreat and a bi-annual ArtWorks intensive for illustrators.  We also offer smaller events in each of our four counties (Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Kern) including workshops, critiquenics and illustrator gatherings. Our listserv is known for lively discussions about the art and craft of writing for children, monthly book talks and updates on market information. 

Members in the Central-Coastal California region are absolutely thrilled that WON TON: A CAT TALE TOLD IN HAIKU won the Crystal Kite Award in the California/Hawaii Division! And we're especially proud that Lee Wardlaw, Eugene Yelchin and their editor, Sally Doherty of Henry Holt spoke at our Writers' Day event in 2011 and walked us through the fascinating process of this book's development. We’re very excited that she will be accepting her Crystal Kite at our CenCal Writers’ Day on October 27, 2012.--  a lovely full-circle experience for all of our members who have been cheering this book on from the start.

In addition to being a terrific writer, Lee, a resident of Santa Barbara and an SCBWI member since 1983, has been an incredible support to writers through the years, generous with her advice, time and talents. She helped plan several regional events during my own transition into the position as regional advisor in the1990s and continues to be a respected voice on our regional listserv.  
-Alexis O'Neill, Regional Advisor for Lee Wardlaw's SCBWI Central-Coastal California region.

In a lovely coincidence, I am the co-Regional Advisor, along with Sarah Laurenson, for the SCBWI Los Angeles region, and we're delighted to celebrate our member, Eugene's, success!  

SCBWI Los Angeles holds over 70 free schmoozes a year for members and non-members alike.  In addition, we have six major annual events:

1.  Our upcoming Working Writer's Retreat in September, a three-day, two-night retreat featuring editors, agents, and intensive critiquing and revising.  (Sold out again this year!)

2.  Illustrator's Day - This year on November 3rd - a one-day conference featuring speakers (editors, art directors, and illustrators), juried art competition, contests, and portfolio reviews/display.  Details here!

3.  Writer's Days - Spring - a two-day conference featuring speakers, a professional forum, writing contests, and awards.  The first day focuses on speakers exploring an issue in depth (Diversity is the theme for 2013), the second day offers intensive sessions with the conference faculty.

4.  Creative Toolbox - A one day workshop featuring a speaker demonstrating nuts and bolts techniques on the craft of writing and illustrating for children. 

5.  Critiquenic - Summer - free, informal critiquing sessions for writers and illustrators facilitated by published authors/illustrators, held after a picnic lunch.

6.  Down the Rabbit Hole Field Trip - a hands-on creative field trip for writers and illustrators.

We have a lot of fun in our Los Angeles region, which I can prove with this eleven second video from our regional meeting at the recent SCBWI Summer Conference...

To find out more about Lee Wardlaw, visit her website here.

For more of Eugene Yelchin (he's a writer and an illustrator!) visit his site, here.

To find out more about SCBWI Central-Coastal California, check out their region's website.

And to learn more about SCBWI Los Angeles, here's the link.

My thanks to Alexis, and Cheers to both Lee Wardlaw and Eugene Yelchin on winning the Crystal Kite Member Choice Award for WON TON: A CAT TALE TOLD IN HAIKU!


The Pen and Ink Blog said...

We love this Book. All the Pen and Inker's read it.

Dana Atnip said...

Congratulations on winning the Crystal Kite, Lee (and Eugene!).

I just read Won Ton and absolutely loved it (even more so as he was adopted from a shelter)! Beautifully written and illustrated!