Monday, October 29, 2012

Opportunity Knocking at #NY13SCBWI

SCBWI offers you craft, business, inspiration, opportunity and community... and nowhere is that more true than at our international conferences, like the upcoming 14th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York, February 1-3, 2013.

Some of the unique opportunities for writers include the Friday Writers Roundtable Intensive, where you get to sit with an acquiring agent or editor and read them a few pages of your work and get immediate feedback.  (There are only 8 spots left in this intensive!)

There's also the novel intensive on Friday, but that is now sold out.

For illustrators who attend the Friday Illustrator's Intensive, there is the Portfolio Showcase, a private viewing of your portfolio for over two hundred specially invited art directors, editors and agents from children's publishing.  A jury of industry professionals will select a winner and runners up.

And for everyone, there's the Saturday evening Gala Cocktail Party, where you can mingle and network with faculty, colleagues, industry insiders and meet fellow writers and illustrators from your region.

These are in addition to the substance of the conference, a weekend packed with Keynotes (have you checked out the All-Star Faculty list?), a Booksellers Panel on "What's Selling?", and your choice of two of eleven "What Hooks Me" Break Out Workshops (hear directly from art directors, creative directors, editors and publishers - check out the schedule for details!)

Craft, Business, Inspiration, Opportunity and Community...

Come join us at #NY13SCBWI!  You can find out more and register here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Acknowledgements Page as... a weapon?

This article, Acknowledgement Pages Say More Than Thanks, by Keir Graff at booklistonline is brilliantly funny.

Keir calls the piece "...a crash course in writing an acknowledgements page that allows you to wear the guise of a humble and gracious scribe while, in reality, letting every writer who is less successful know exactly how much more successful you are."

It's packed with wisdom like,

"Ideally, your research will be reflected in your writing—but, just in case it isn’t, be sure to mention it all here."


"...thank the proprietor of your special writing getaway, the place you go when it’s just four weeks to deadline, where you write around the clock in sheltered anonymity. It doesn’t matter whether this is a pensione in Venice or a cabin in Appalachia. The point is that most writers are just desperate for an hour away from their damn kids; your ability to leave town at will will have them drooling with envy."

The article had me laughing out loud... At the same time, it had me thinking about how different writers tackle their acknowledgements page.  And how in the most entertaining of them, the author's voice is still there, loud and clear.

Take a few minutes, and go through some of your favorite books - and check out the acknowledgements.
Who will you thank, and how will you approach the acknowledgments page of your next book?

Good stuff to consider.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tomie dePaola Wins The Society of Illustrators' Lifetime Achievement Award - Our Interview, part 3 of 3

The finale of my discussion with Tomie...

Lee:  With picture books like "The Night of Las Posadas," "The Story of the Three Wise Kings" and "Pascual and the Kitchen Angels" have you found differences in creating and marketing books with religious themes, between the religious and the trade market?

Tomie:  Those books, I don't consider them Religious with a capital "R", because I don't have an agenda about pushing any kind of a spirituality on anybody.  I like to call them spiritual books, or they're about other-worldly things, they all come out of a love of story. When I was a kid, I was brought up as a Catholic, and somebody said, 'are you practicing?' And I said, 'no, I practiced long enough that I've got it down-pat.  I don't have to practice anymore.'

(both laugh)

Tomie:  And I didn't need to be recovered because nothing, never hurt me.  Years ago, a wonderful spiritual writer from England, who was a real wacko, she was really strange, she was a mystic and she had extra-sensory perception, name was Caryll Houslander, but she said something, and this was years ago when I was very involved in the liturgical art movement, because I started out painting murals in churches and designing vestments and doing all that kind of stuff back in the 50s, before I ever did a book.  She said that the stories of the saints read like fairy tales, really good fairy tales.  There's something charming, when I discovered the story about Pascual from my Mexican friends, they all told me this wonderful story about little Pascual, who because he was ignorant, they made him be the cook, and he couldn't cook, but he could pray really well, and the angels came... and I think that is so charming.

Lee:  And it did make me think of the mice making Cinderella's dress.

Tomie: (Laughs) Yeah, Right!  It's the same thing!

Lee:  It is.  It's a fairy tale!   They are angels - those mice have wings, we just don't see them.

Tomie:  Yeah.   That's right!  And Las Posadas... Have you ever been to the Posadas in Santa Fe?  It's just fascinating.

Lee:  No, but I live in Southern California and I've seen the paper bags with the candles inside...

Tomie:  Yup!  Well if you ever get a chance to go at Christmas-time to Santa Fe, they do this Posadas, which means, 'the inn.'  It's an old Spanish tradition of Joseph and Mary go from house...  In fact, in Mexico, they did it until just recently - when the drug stuff really got desperate in Mexico, neighborhoods had to stop it because people were coming into their houses and stealing televisions, but it used to be, that neighborhoods, you'd go to everyone's house on this special night singing carols, or old songs, and they had to give you food, and then you'd go to the next house looking for the baby Jesus.  And one house would have the baby Jesus.  And you'd stay there and you'd eat chili and everything and stay all night.  And they do this in the Plaza in Santa Fe, and there's always a Devil that has to appear and say 'no, no, you can't come in - don't let them in' - and Santa Fe has two Devils because the Plaza is so big.  And so the whole thing was so charming that I wanted to put it down in a story.  There actually was, and I think she's still alive, there was a Sister in a little town outside of Santa Fe who organized the whole thing, I think she still does.  Her name was Sister Angela so I created the character of Sister Angie, really all based on something that could have actually happened.

Lee:  Well...

Tomie:  But I love miracle happenings.  So okay, it happens to be Joseph and Mary who show up.  But it could be Fairy Godmother, it could be... maybe the Golden River, it could be anything... (Laughs)

Lee:  And with the snow on the statue, really, it was so beautifully done.

Tomie:  Well you see, I really do believe in miracles, and I'm expecting some later here in my life!  I'm happy that some of those books appeal to you, that you mention them, that they're not just for the Sunday school crowd, because they're certainly not just for the Sunday school crowd.

Lee:  Yes, this Jewish Atheist enjoyed them.

Tomie:  Good!  (Laughs)  I think that should be on the flap-copy.

Lee:  (Laughs)  You're welcome to use it!  So, Lifetime Achievement!  What does that mean to you?

Tomie:  You know, this is what happens if you live long enough.  I started getting these Lifetime Achievement awards a couple of years ago.  I got a Lifetime Achievement award from the New Hampshire Writers Guild.   Last year I received The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for my Lifetime Achievement from the American Library Association.  But this one is kind of special because, The Original Art Show - a woman named Dilys Evans started the whole thing, she was an artist's agent, and she really felt that illustration was being ignored.  And The Society of Illustrators has been around since the 30s, if not earlier.  It was an old boys club, in New York, still in the original building, but she got them to host what she called 'The Original Art Show" where publishers and/or illustrators can submit work to be chosen - for the art to stand alone.  They're illustrations from a book - but that original art from children's books can stand alone as art.  And about nine years ago they decided to start giving Lifetime Achievement awards.  And they give two: One is to a living person, and the other one is posthumously.  I'm just lucky I got it while I'm alive!  (Laughs.) What they do, is they have a jury that picks out the original art for each annual show.  And they have a jury that selects five people in each category to be voted on by the illustrators that have had their work chosen to be in the Original Art Exhibition for the past three years.  So it's an award that's given to a person by their peers, which really means a lot.  It means that some of these young illustrators like my work, which is really kind of wonderful.

Lee:  That's so awesome.  So you have all these Lifetime Achievement awards lined up on your mantel, or, I don't know if they're physical things, but I'm curious: What's your next challenge, or goal?  I mean, you have all these Lifetime Achievement Awards... but you're still alive!

Tomie:  I know.  I even got a library named after me while I'm still alive. 

Lee:  Nice!

Tomie:  I'm just worried that they're not going to let me kick off.  (Laughs.)

Lee:  So what's the next challenge or goal for you?

Tomie:  The next challenge is to get up in the morning and go to work!  (Laughs.)  And I'll tell you - People say, 'oh, by now, it must be so easy.'  Well it isn't.  I think it gets harder as I get older.  Because I know what's ahead.  I know, once I start a project, that's my life for the next year or two or whatever.  I just finished my Fall book for 2013.  Everything went off today, everything's at the publisher, which is great.  We have to get things in earlier and earlier and earlier, which is really a pain.  'Cause now it means I have to start thinking about 2014, so I got a couple of days I can rest.  (Laughs.) 

I'm planning to spend the entire Winter painting.  I had a rough Winter last year, I was very ill, and I suppose that comes along with getting to be, I turned 78 this year, and I know that my voice doesn't sound like an old man's voice, which is kind of off-putting to me, because I look in the mirror and then I'm always surprised by what's looking back at me.  I've always painted as well as done my illustrations, and because I was ill last Winter, I really couldn't get paintings done for a show at the gallery that I show at this past Summer. So next year, I'm hoping to have really, some...  I have no idea what the paintings are going to look like, and I'm hoping I can spend the Winter painting.

Some of Tomie's paintings above

Lee:  Cool!

Tomie:  Yeah.

Lee:  It also seems that giving back and encouraging newer illustrators is part of what you're doing...

Tomie:  Very much so.  I was lucky enough to have wonderful mentors in my youth - at both art school and in the early years of publishing.  And I think there's nothing, nothing is more rewarding than passing that knowledge, or passing that encouragement down to younger people who I notice they might have talent or something.  I have the Tomie dePaola Award and Lin and Steve continued it.   I was going to do it for five years, which I did, and they said 'we're going to continue it.'  It will be in this coming Bulletin, and it's online.  I give an assignment, and the illustrators that want to enter the competition have to follow my guildelines, and this year it's going to be black and white.

Lee:  The art will be black and white or the theme of it is...?

Tomie:  The assignment is a black and white illustration from one of three classics, their choice of classics: "The Yearling," "Little Women" and "Tom Sawyer."

[Here's the link for this year's guidelines.]

Lee:  It sounds like a great opportunity for illustrators who want to break out, get noticed.

Tomie:  And also I think it gives people a chance to stretch a little bit, without being threatened. There's no book contract at the end of it.  If you win it, you win it.  I always say that I want to be surprised.  And I've been fortunate that my taste is good enough that some of the people have gone on and gotten book contracts, which is great. 

It's a tough world out there now.  I'm even experiencing that.  The golden years of the children's book certainly have dimmed.  And no one knows, no one seems to know where it's going to go, which is fascinating - that the publisher themselves don't know where, what the industry is going to look like in five years.  And if they don't know, who does, you know?

Lee:  Yeah, there's so much changing.  That's a good lead-in to my final question,

Tomie:  Okay,

Lee:  Can you share your best advice for other children's book illustrators and writers?

Tomie:  Yeah.  It's advice my twin cousins, and they're both still alive, they're in the 90s, and they became very successful fashion and editorial photographers on graduating from Pratt Institute, and I went to Pratt because they went there, and they gave me advice when I was five years old, and it was:

"Practice, Practice, Practice.  And don't copy."

Lee:  I'm laughing because that came up in "The Art Lesson" which I just read with my daughter!

Tomie:  That's right!  Those are the twins!  (Laughs.)  And it's still the advice I give any young artist.

We wish Tomie good health and continued success, and cheers on his Society of Illustrators' Lifetime Achievement Award!

(You can go back and read part one and part two of our interview.)

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Registration for #NY13SCBWI Opens Friday Oct 19, 2012!

It's the biggest event of the winter, in New York City!  (Feb 1-3, 2013)

Check out the faculty and schedule announced so far and more details are rolling out...

There will be a private portfolio showcase for illustrators, a Gala Party on Saturday evening, and a new Elements of the Novel intensive on Friday (as well as the Writers Roundtable where you get to read your work to an acquiring agent or editor and the Illustrators Intensive - Lessons Learned: A Candid Conversation about Arriving, Surviving, and Thriving as a Picture Book Illustrator.)

The roster of faculty and keynote presenters is beyond impressive:  Mo Willems! Shaun Tan! Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton! Margaret Peterson Haddix! Meg Rosoff! Matthew Kirby! Lewin! Krista Marino! Floyd Cooper! Barbara McClintock! David Ezra Stein! Jane Yolen! Linda Sue Park!

Registration opens tomorrow (Friday, October 19, 2012) at 10am pacific standard time at
(There's even a discount rate on a block of hotel rooms.)

This Winter Conference will be full of amazing opportunities, craft, business, inspiration and community... and we hope to see you there!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tomie dePaola Wins The Society of Illustrators' Lifetime Achievement Award - Our Interview, Part Two

Here's part two of my conversation with Tomie...

Lee:  You've done a number of stories based on your own life, from the 26 Fairmont Avenue chapter book series to picture books like "The Baby Sister" and "The Art Lesson."  Are you proof of write what you know?

Tomie:  Yeah.  That's kind of a recurring theme in literature over the years, isn't it?  I remember two examples really well from literature, one was Little Women, where Jo wrote this grandiose, romantic story and the Professor, who she eventually marries, says to her, 'yes, you're a good writer, but you've written a story about something that really doesn't exist, only in your head, and you should write what you know' and she wrote My Beth.

And the same in Mama's bank Account, or, I Remember Mama, the character of Mama takes Kathryn's manuscript to a writer, a lady writer, and asks her to read it, and the lady writer says the same thing that she's not writing about what she knows, she's writing about something that she's in love with or romanticizing about.  So Kathryn sits down and writes I Remember Mama, and it becomes a huge success.

And I think that's something that young writers have to learn, and they don't often learn it until they have some dismal failures.  That's what school's for, I think, to have dismal failures, one after the other, and then Eureka, you've found it, and usually it's right there at home. 

That theme of looking where you live, or looking inside yourself, is recurrent all through the history of literature and art.  When I got brave enough to write - the picture books were easy.  In fact, in the first picture books, I felt I could take a little bit of license, I could leave stuff out.  I could not get adamant about no, no, that happened in second grade, not in first grade, etc...  I even spelled my name differently, I spelled it T-O-M-M-Y.

Lee:  I noticed that.  Yeah, in "The Art Lesson."

Tomie:  Yeah, and in some of the other autobiographical picture books, but in the 26 Fairmount Avenue books, I was adamant about making those books as honest and as truthful as I could remember.   The poor editors that worked with me on those - I'd say, 'No, I'm not going to over-dramatize that because that's not the way it happened.'  (Laughs)  It was a bore for an editor.

If someone had told me thirty, forty years ago.  I started out... almost fifty years ago.  My first illustrations were published in 1964.  If someone had told me that I would be writing the story of my own life, I would have told them they were out of their minds.  Because none of us think our lives are interesting enough.  But it was the children who said, 'we want to hear more about your life.'  I've got one more in me - one more 26 Fairmount Avenue book in me.  I'm just trying to find the time and the health to do it.

Lee:  But, then again, you were never chased out of your house by an overflowing pot of pasta [like in "Strega Nona"] were you?

Tomie:  No... but I had to face a Mount Vesuvius of pasta by my Italian grandmother when I was only five and I wasn't allowed to leave the table until I finished it.

Lee:  Ah, so maybe it's 'Write the emotional truth you know?'

Tomie:  (Laughs)  Exactly!  But I got even, you know what I did?  I finished the pasta.  I think it took hours.  My older brother, he was like a vacuum cleaner.  Anything you put in front of him, it was gone in two seconds.  I was a very picky eater with certain things, and one of the things I didn't like was this pasta, with... well of course, Italian Americans call it 'gravy,' you know, tomato sauce on it.  And because a child, with my Italian grandmother, you didn't get any meat or vegetables until you got a job.  All you got was the pasta.  And my mother couldn't say, 'no, he's eaten enough.'  My Italian grandmother, besides saying 'hello' she said 'mangia' - eat.

And so, what I did, and I tried to put it in the book, and the editor at the time was too timid to let me do it.  I wanted to call it 'The pisgetti book.'  Because of course no child can pronounce spaghetti until they're in high school.  Every child I know says 'pisgetti.'  I ate the big dish of spaghetti and then I promptly threw it up.  (Laughs) And my grandmother never made me eat a big plate of it again!

Lee:  (Laughs)  Oh man, I want the re-issued version of that!  You have to go back to that one - that's awesome.  That's so much more honest, right? 

Two of my favorite books of yours have really strong messages about social issues.  One is "Oliver Button is a Sissy." 

Tomie:  Oh, thank you.

Lee:  And I'll let you know that the final page turn has me fighting back tears every time I read it.

Tomie:  You know, that's based on something that actually happened to me.

Lee:  Wow.  I didn't know that.

Tomie:  Yeah, I wasn't brave enough to sort of say it, back when that book... that book was way ahead of it's time, and Barbara Lucas, my editor, was very very brave to let me use the word "Sissy" in the title.  And it's amazing - as far as I know, that book was never banned from a library.  For whatever reason.  This is Banned Books week, and there have been all these articles about "Heather Has Two Mommies" and "My Daddy's Roommate" and "My Uncle's Wedding" - there's a whole list of them online about which books have been banned and how many times over the years people have asked for them to be taken out of libraries. 

I've had books of mine that they've asked to take out of the libraries, but not anything because of being a sissy, I had the Chicken - I can't remember the exact name of it - but it was like the 'Poultry Benevolent Society' on my back for two or three years because of my book "Tom," about my grandfather. 

Because in that book, my grandfather actually gave me, every week, he was a butcher, he gave me chicken feet to take home.  And I would take the nails, and I learned how to move them by moving the tendons.  And they thought that was... First of all, it was terrible that someone actually cut the chicken feet off the dead chickens... this is the way some people think, you know? 

But Oliver Button, thank you.  And what was the other one?

Lee:  "The Knight and The Dragon"

Tomie:  Oh, really?  Oh, that's interesting.

Lee:  It also has a twist at the end in a way that gets me so strongly.  I was wondering, do you see a responsibility for illustrators and authors to tackle social issues like bullying and war?

Tomie:  Only if it comes from a real personal experience.  I think that there are a bunch of children's book writers out there, and some of them very successful, and they look in the newspaper to see what the recent social issue is and they write about stuff without having any personal knowledge.  "Oliver Button is a Sissy" actually happened to me.  I think in the second or third 26 Fairmount Avenue book I address it as my brother standing on the side watching the older boys play tag with my tap shoes in the school yard.  For some reason, I got this connection with this name, Oliver Button.  This is way before Benjamin Button, by the way.  I just liked the sound of it.  I wanted to tell the story of name calling and bullying because it had happened to me.  And I was rescued by some of the girls in the school, and I was rescued by somebody who I still don't know, who crossed that word "sissy" off the school building wall in chalk, and wrote "star" above it. 

Lee:  I love how that really happened.

Tomie:  Yeah, it really happened.  I'm glad, you know, that book was done a long time ago and it's still having impact, which is great.

Lee:  So is making sure what you're writing is coming from a personal experience - not necessarily it is the personal experience - but at least the truth of your own personal experience coming through, is that how an author or illustrator can wade into those dangerous waters without getting too preachy?

Tomie:  I'm going to be perfectly honest here.  I don't think that a straight person could write about a homosexual experience, because they're writing about it from outside the window looking in.  Now, you can be a straight person and write about what happened with a friend of yours, but how can you... that's fabricated emotion, isn't it?

Lee:  I wonder.  I mean if, authors write females characters if you're male, or there are white authors who write characters of color.  You have to get the details right, but I wonder if it's about getting the emotional truth of it, like, feeling excluded?

Tomie:  Do you know Jackie Woodson's books?

Lee: Yeah.

Tomie:   I love Jackie, and I marvel at her books.  Talk about... She's experienced every feeling that's been in those books...  You're on to something here.  Sure, you can write about... Well, we have to become our characters, but then there's that line.  And if you step over the line...  I could relate to Cinderella, frankly, growing up.  Because I had an older brother.   I was the little girl sitting by the fire, never going to the ball.  I could relate to Dorothy.  I wanted to be Shirley Temple and Judy Garland, I didn't want to be Buck Rogers or Dick Tracy or Joe Palooka, those were images my brother had as a child. 

I think that somewhere there has to be an emotional connect to the experiences of the characters that we write.  And there are several ways to get that.  One way is personal experience, and then conjuring up those feelings of what it was like.  Not necessarily the historical event, but the feeling that was inside.  If you've never been bullied, then you don't know what it feels like to be bullied.  You can write it as a clinician, as a clinical psychologist - this is what happens when a child is bullied - but only if you have been bullied can you feel it in your gut and then you can put that onto the page.  At least that's how I feel about it.

Lee:  Yeah.  So your Story “Settin” in your folk-tale compilation “Front Porch Tales and North Country Whoppers” has two really unexpected elements – one was that fish-out-of-water experience of the couple of non-New-Hampshire natives experiencing an authentic “Settin," which totally cracked me up.

Tomie:  That's a true story!

Lee:  And then that the couple are “two young fellas livin’ in an old fahmhouse out theyah on the Greendale Road.” 

Tomie:  That's right.  I could show you the farmhouse tomorrow if you come up. (Laughs)

Lee:  Is that a gay couple?  Or did you intend to leave it up to the reader to decide who they are to each other?

Tomie:  Actually, we didn't know we were gay at the time.  We were both, we were living in this farmhouse because we had a spiritual ideal, we were going to become - this was a very popular thing in the far-out Catholic Church in the 50's - it was called a Lay Institute, I think.  We met in a monastery, and we wanted to have kind of like a little, simple monastery.  And we had no idea that we were... I mean, I knew I was gay, but Jack, he was older than I was and he didn't know he was gay.  And we didn't live a gay life, we lived a life of two friends.  And that actually happened, that whole thing of sitting there with no one saying a word!  (Laughs.)

Lee:  That hysterical.  For me, as a reader looking at it, I got really excited.   I was like, 'wow, it's a gay couple in this great story, and it's not really about their being gay, it's just this hysterical story.'

Tomie:  That's actually what it is, yeah.  And it was very interesting, because it wasn't that long after that we both realized that oh, wait a minute.  This is more than a religious experience here, our living together.  But talk about being accepted...  Jack and I were terribly accepted in this little village in Western Vermont.  People loved us.  They called us 'the two fellas,' you know?  So I guess, if you don't walk down the street in a dress, you're all right.

Lee:  We'll get the world to where people can walk down the street wearing whatever they want.

Tomie:  Yeah. That's right.  Exactly.  You can in Vermont now. Vermont was one of the first New England states to legalize Gay Marriage, you know?

Lee:  Yeah, that's terrific.

Tomie:  Yeah!


Come back on Tuesday October 23, 2012 for the third and final installment of my interview with Tomie dePaola, where we talk about Tomie's books with religious themes, get his best advice for other children's books illustrators and writers, and find out what winning the Society of Illustrators' Lifetime Achievement Award means to him!

You can read part one of our interview here

Illustrate and Write On,

Sunday, October 14, 2012

EXTRA! #NY13SCBWI - Registration Opens Friday October 19, 2012 For The SCBWI Winter Conference!

Exciting News!

The 2013 SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City (tweetily known as #NY13SCBWI) is happening February 1st to 3rd, 2013. The conference runs two days (Saturday and Sunday) with an optional Friday intensive.  It promises to be an incredible weekend of craft, business, inspiration, opportunity and community!

You want details?

Here are just some of the Keynote presenters:

Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton

Margaret Peterson Haddix

Meg Rosoff

Mo Willems


Shaun Tan

There will also be a Booksellers Panel on "What's Selling Now" and smaller breakout sessions called "What Hooks Me" featuring ELEVEN acquiring editors and art directors from publishing houses including HarperCollins, Scholastic, Penguin, Candlewick, Little Brown and Simon and Schuster.

There are three different Friday Intensives to select from:

The Writer's Roundtable - A small-group critique of your work by an acquiring editor or agent plus two panels.

Illustrator's Intensive - Lessons Learned:  Candid Conversations about Arriving, Surviving and Thriving as a Picture Book Illustrator featuring acclaimed illustrators including Floyd Cooper, Barbara McClintock, David Ezra Stein and Shaun Tan.

Elements of the Novel - A 50-person workshop that will explore and examine the elements of novel writing with Margaret Peterson Haddix, Jane Yolen, Meg Rosoff, Matthew Kirby, Linda Sue Park, Krista Marino and Ari Lewin.

Three days to take your career writing and illustrating for children and teens to the next level!

More details will be released at throughout the week, leading up to registration opening this upcoming Friday, October 19, 2012 at 10am Pacific Time!

Be Aware:  This conference will sell out!

Want more insight into what a SCBWI New York International Conference is like?  Check out our Official SCBWI Conference Blog for SCBWI Team Blog's take on the last one! 

Hope to see you there,

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Tomie dePaola Wins The Society of Illustrators Lifetime Achievement Award - Our Interview, Part One

Tomie dePaola (pronounced Tommy Da-POW-la) is a Powerhouse!

Tomie DePaolo, photo credit: Julie Maris/Semel

He's written and/or illustrated nearly 250 books for children, has been a long time member of the SCBWI Board of Advisors (he is now emeritus), founded the Illustrator’s Committee of the SCBWI board which produces events especially for illustrators, taught the first master class at an SCBWI conference, and so much more.

I had the great fortune to chat with Tomie about his recent honor, his career, and the craft of writing and illustrating for children.

Here's part one of our interview:

Lee:  Hi Tomie!  You're the man who put the "I" in SCBWI and now you're the man with the Society of Illustrators Lifetime Achievement Award!

Tomie:  Yeah, how's that.  Wow, huh?

Lee:  Congratulations!

Tomie:  Thank you.

Lee:  I wanted to jump into some questions... Do you think visually?

Tomie:  I guess so.  Yeah... You know, I don't really know.  I think that when I have a visual problem, like doing an illustration or a painting or doing a room or doing a table or whatever, I do think visually.  I hear my stories rather than... the written word isn't that important to me as much as for my voice.  When I was a kid, my mother loved the movies.  And my father really didn't care for the movies so much.  He was a barber, my mother was, you know, just a housewife.  I came along and my brother was four years older than me.  So by the time he got off to school, I was still pretty young.  So my mother would go to the matinees and take me along with her.  And I learned sort of movie theater etiquette at a very early age.  And I have home movies of me at three years old imitating Mae West!  So, I think in terms of visual and sound.  When Lin [Oliver] was visiting, she said to me, What have you got on your CD player?  And I said, oh, I play lots of soundtracks, movie soundtracks.  Classical-type movie soundtracks, or exciting ones, like Babel.  I think if I hadn't been an illustrator, if I hadn't been a visual artist, I think I probably would have tried to get into movies.

Lee: I guess music is a way to help yourself get tone, right?

Tomie:  Yeah, yeah.  Well, I never saw a movie that didn't have background music.  I think if I could carry around background music with me all my life, I'd be happy.  I see my life as a dramatic event!

Lee:  That's good.  Hopefully it's a happy event.

Tomie: Well, sometimes, you know.  Sometimes not. (Laughs)

Lee:  E.B. Lewis, in a session he gave on "Mastering the Visual Language" at the 2012 SCBWI Summer Conference, discussed how it's not just writers who need to have a voice, illustrators need to develop a voice as well, and you just mentioned voice.  When E.B. was describing his own illustrator voice, he called it "emotion."  How would you describe your own voice as an illustrator?

Tomie:  For me, there's three things that are important in both my writing voice and my visual voice, my picture voice.  The first one is honesty.  I have to really be honest to myself and the material.  And not show off.  And not use the platform as a springboard for how fantastic I am.  But it has to be very honest, and I always keep the audience in mind.  I think that comes also from theater training, which is a wonderful training for anybody doing books or illustration.

The other thing is that I really love humor.  I like it when children laugh out loud at my pictures.

I don't try to - for a trained illustrator... 'Cause you know, I went to Pratt Institute in the early days when discipline was very strict, and had to do lots and lots and lots of drawings, but the important thing that we had to do, we had to learn all the technical aspects, and the formal aspects of making a picture.  And then we had to forget it and make sure that all of that was behind us, and in our souls and in our fingers, and then we could create what would be any kind of an emotion.  And you learn how do that from getting assignments.  I didn't want to just draw little duckies and chickies.  I wanted to draw young people having angst and opera singers throwing themselves off of buildings and all the wonderful things that I saw as a child in film and on stage and in puppet shows and in books.

If you do a lot of interviews, I'm sure you know that people have different vocabularies?

Lee:  Yeah,

Tomie:  Doing an illustration, it's just honing the visual vocabulary that you choose or you are born with or that you train into.

Lee:  I want to make sure I got that.  It was honesty, humor and then I guess, the training, right?

Tomie:  Yup.  That's absolutely it.  Honesty - I think that's one of the hardest things for young people to grasp.  Because they're trying to become famous, they're trying to make a splash, they're trying to get noticed.  And in this day and age, we have so many imitators.  Everywhere.  You have to find your own center.  And that's where the honesty starts, being honest with yourself and then being honest with your audience.

Lee:  Like that moment in the 26 Fairmount Avenue series [in the first book] when you as a little boy find the chocolate laxatives?

Tomie:  Yes!  (Laughs)

Lee:  Uh!  Such an honest moment and painful to read but funny at the same time... It makes me think of how the best actors are the ones that don't always look pretty...

Tomie:  Right!

Lee:  That are willing to look bad and are willing to go to those hard places.  That was a moment that made me think, Wow, this is an author-illustrator just being so honest.

Tomie:  Oh, thank you.  Thank you very much.

Lee:  And honestly, going to be one of my daughter's favorite moments in a book ever.

Tomie:  (Laughs)  The awful thing is that they don't make chocolate X-Lax anymore, just because of accidents like I had when I was a child.

Lee:  (Laughs)  When you've illustrated books for other authors, like "The Tale of Rabbit and Coyote" by Tony Johnston, and even in some of your own work, I'm thinking of "The Parables of Jesus," you use different visual styles with different works.  I'm wondering if you can talk about the process you go through of matching the tone of the art to the tone of the words.

Tomie:  The minute I get a project that's not my own story, let me just back up a minute...  I think the most important thing for me is to try to hold off on how I'm going to illustrate something - including my own work - until the story is in my hands.   In other words, it's very tempting to try to start to figure out how I'm going to illustrate a book while I'm working on the manuscript, for my own stories.  But I really have learned over the years to not even think about what's going to happen until the story is finished.  Then, I can let my wild illustrator imagination let go, and then it becomes the illustrator's book instead of the writer's book.

I remember years ago Wally Trip said at a conference - this was maybe thirty years ago - Wally Trip was quite a wonderful illustrator of animals especially, very very humorous illustrations.  He said, when he gets the manuscript about Helen's bunny rabbit, it becomes Wally's bunny rabbit.

(Tomie and Lee Laugh)

And that's the way I try to approach manuscripts that I haven't written as well as the ones I have written.  I let the manuscript soak into my head and say okay, Tony Johnston's Rabbit and Coyote, Tony and I had talked about the project personally, and she wrote that book because she had lived in Mexico for a while.  She had met this Mexican-Indian storyteller, and he had some of these wonderful stories in a very ancient - not Spanish - but ancient Indian language.  And he told them to her.  And so she actually kind of translated them into Spanish or English.  So I immediately knew that I wanted to do that book in a more folk art, Mexican folk art style.  So I just immersed myself in Mexican folk art.  And then let it seep through and come out the other end the way it's supposed to, or the way I wanted it to, or the way I was surprised by it coming out through my fingers.

And the same way with the "Parables of Jesus."

I had a choice, you know, my attraction to religious art, or sacred art, has always been pre-Renaissance.  The Romanesque, very stylized, not superhuman, but very stylized line and form.  So I chose to emulate that kind of style instead of an overblown or a sentimental style - which just drives me nuts, when I see anything done with a sentimental, whether it's a religious story or a fairy tale or a Mommy-Loves-Me book.  Sentimentality has no place in my life.  Sentiment does.  But I learned years ago that there's a difference between Sentimentality and Sentiment.  Sentiment is true feeling.  Sentimentality is a romantization of feeling so you don't have to really feel - it's a feel-good feeling instead of a genuine feeling.

So I really immerse myself in the story and let the story dictate... part of my job as an illustrator and  a visual artist, was, when I was younger, and I continue to do it, was to learn as much about the way other artists painted and how they saw the world so that I would have some little leg up on how I saw the world.  And you see the world slowly slowly slowly as an artist.  So I have a lot of resources built in that I've developed over the years.  And I have a huge research library here at my studio.  All the art that I love.  If I have a free day or free time, I often will just sit and open a book and look.  I've increased my vocabulary over the forty-five-plus years I've been working.  So I have a good backlog inside my head that I can visually match the story or the intent of the story to an illustration style.

Lee:  That's so cool, thanks for sharing that.   I also love hearing that you have that pass-off of the manuscript from the writer to the illustrator even with your own work.

Tomie:  Yup!

Lee:  That's fascinating... 

Come back on Tuesday October 16, 2012 for Part Two of my three part interview with Tomie dePaola!  We talk about the maxim "Write What You Know," discuss whether artists have a responsibility to tackle social issues, and much more!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The 2013 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market - A Great Resource Features SCBWI!

Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market - 2013 - is out!

A wonderful reference work, this latest edition from Writer's Digest Books, edited by Chuck Sambuchino, features - in addition to very useful lists of book publishers, magazines, agents and art reps, conferences and workshops, and contests, awards and grants ten informative articles (like "Picture Book Pacing" by Jodell Sadler and "Building Your Author Platform" by Mary Kole) and ten wonderful interviews (like Kristen Grace's interview of Tamora Pierce exploring how she creates and works with numerous characters and Ricki Schultz' interview of Rae Carson where they discuss, among other things, how the world you build for your novel needs to match up with how your characters think.)

One of the highlights of the 2013 CWIM is the "Meet The SCBWI Regional Advisors" interview (pg. 144) by the edition's editor, where Chuck contacted 30 regional advisors all around the country - and the world - and got them to share about their regions, events, personal motivations for volunteering and their best piece of advice for a new writer or illustrator.  It's a wonderful feature that starts out with Chuck saying in the first lines of the introduction,

"If you want to write or illustrate books for kids, the number one piece of advice you're going to hear is "Join the SCBWI."  I'd bet money on it."

We certainly agree, and are delighted to be featured in this treasure-trove of great information!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Publishers Weekly "Books I Love" Series... and an Exercise!

Publishers Weekly has started a column where authors like Libba Bray share the books that have been important for them... and why.

Books I Love: Libba Bray is, like Libba herself and her books, searingly honest and funny (or is it searingly funny and honest?) It's her takes on ten books that made her laugh, made her wistful, made her love gothic, and made her "understand the power of story to witness, to fight back, to unite, to heal, and to transform."

It's an exercise well worth doing:  What are the ten books that have shaped YOU as a writer?  As an illustrator? 

PW describes the series as: "Books I Love is a series where writers talk about the books that inspired them, the books they keep coming back to, and the books they'll always remember."  

Write out the list of your favorites (and why) and see what you learn about yourself as an artist.  Then let us know here in comments how it went.  Did you learn anything?  See a pattern you hadn't considered before?  Is there something your favorite books share that you could add to a work-in-progress?  Let us know!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

How Will YOU Celebrate The Right To Read? It's Banned Books Week 2012!

Banned Books Week is a calling-out of the efforts to censor books, as well as a celebration of the Freedom to Read.

As writers and illustrators of creative content for children, we're affected by the efforts to censor books, even when it's someone else's book being challenged. 

It's happened to authors and illustrators, of fiction and nonfiction, picture books and middle grade and Young Adult! 

It's happened to Lauren Myracle, Sherman Alexie, Ellen Hopkins, Suzanne Collins, Sonya Sones, Peter Parnell, Justin Richardson, Henry Cole, Phillip Pullman, Sarah Brannen, Amy Sonnie, and so many more!

How will you acknowledge the importance of the right to read this week?

There are lots of suggestions at the American Library Association website, and as galvanizing inspiration, here's a video from Thomas University, made last year for Banned Books Week:


Share your Banned Books Week celebration in comments! 

Illustrate and Write... and Read On,