Thursday, December 29, 2016


New Year's eve is almost here...

Now is the perfect time to take a deep breath, grab a journal, and think, and brainstorm, and muse about your author/illustrator journey.

What are your goals moving forward into 2017?

Consider making a list of goals to accomplish that you control -

Selling a book isn't in your control. Submitting a manuscript to your dream agent is.
Making the best-seller lists isn't in your control. Making a book trailer is.
Having a theme park based on your book isn't in your control. Setting your butt-in-chair writing and illustrating goals (i.e., I'm going to devote two hours a day, five days a week to this endeavor) is in your control.

Set your own goals (make a list to help keep yourself accountable and on-track) and set your path to make those goals happen (do you need to schedule creative time into your calendar? Do it!)

Here's to taking control, and taking charge of our creative journeys in the year ahead!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Anne Lamott's advice on Writer's Block

"I no longer thing of it as block.

... The word block suggests that you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you're empty.

...If you accept the reality that you have been given--that you are not in a productive creative period--you free yourself to begin filling up again.

I encourage my students at times like these to get one page of anything written, three hundred words of memories or dreams or stream of consciousness on how much they hate writing--just for the hell of it, just to keep their fingers from becoming too arthritic, just because they have made a committment to try to write three hundred words every day. Then, on bad days and weeks, let things go at that.

...Everything you need is in your head and memories, in all that your senses provide, in all that you've seen and thought and absorbed. There in your unconscious, where the real creation goes on, is the little kid or the Dr. Seuss creature in the cellar, arranging and stitching things together. When this being is ready to hand things up to you, to give you the paragraph or a sudden move one character makes that will change the whole course of your novel, you will be entrusted with it. So, in the meantime, while the tailor is working, you might as well go get some fresh air. Do your three hundred words, and then go for a walk. Otherwise you'll want to sit there and try to contribute, and this will only get in the way. Your unconscious can't work when you are breathing down its neck. You'll sit there going, "Are you done in there yet, are you done in there yet?" But it is trying to tell you nicely, "Shut up and go away."

-Anne Lamott, from her chapter "Writer's Block", pg. 176-182 in the brilliant Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Holiday Shopping, this time for you...

Consider giving yourself the career boost of a winter weekend in New York City at the 2017 SCBWI Winter Conference (#NY17SCBWI), where you'll be inspired by Keynotes from Bryan Collier, Tahereh Mafi, and Sara Pennypacker. Where you'll learn from panels on the current landscape of children's publishing (with agents Adriana Dominguez and Carrie Howland and Edward Necarsulmer, publishers Ken Geist and Eileen Bishop Kreit, and senior editor Andrew Harwell) and on the Four Types of Picture Books (with Andrea Beaty, Andrea Pinkney, Greg Pizzoli, and Daniel Salmieri) and Children's Books in the Social Media World (with influencers Travis Jonkers, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Matthew Winner.) Where you'll get insights directly from your choice of three breakout sessions from a menu of 31 choices with editors, agents and art directors. Where there's a gala dinner and the portfolio showcase and socials (LGBTQ & Allies, Illustrators, New Members & First Time Attendees), the Friday intensives and so much craft, business, opportunity, inspiration, and community that we'll be generating our own supernova of creativity which should keep us all toasty in the midst of the New York winter.

The conference is February 10-12, 2017, and you can find all the faculty, schedule, and conference information here. It's on-track to sell out again this year, and we hope you'll be able to join us.

Illustrate and Write On, and Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

And the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Award Winners Are...

Congratulations to Jan Peck, author of The Green Mother Goose 

and Giant Peach Yodel,

for being the 2016 Winner of the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Award! Jan is an active member of SCBWI and helped build the vibrant North Texas chapter.

Jan's website

Cheers as well to the two Honor winners, Deborah Trotter and Joan Donaldson.

Jane Yolen, who both funds and chooses the winners, said,
"All of the submissions this year were top rate, and the stories of how these authors—many of them award-winners—who have all had some recent setbacks serves as a warning to all writers. We are at the whim of trends, changes in publishers, consolidation of publishing lists, cutbacks in educational spending and the development of newer ways of storytelling. These three winners are all really good at what they do. My one wish is that this small award will be a way of re-starting their book lives again. Selfish of me, really, I want to read more from each of them. They each have many more books, stories, poems inside that need to be seen by the reading public."

You can find out more about the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Award and all the SCBWI awards and grants here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Jambalaya, Diversity, and what one region is doing to make a difference - a Guest Post by Cheryl Mathis, Regional Advisor for Louisiana/Mississippi

It’s an honor and a pleasure to drop into the SCBWI blog today. I’m here in my writing cave in New Orleans and wanted to talk about the diversity movement in the children’s publishing industry and how a small membership region might make a difference.

Cheryl's writing cave

I know Lee and team leaders around the SCBWI world are as passionate as we in our region about addressing this challenge. You might ask, how can a small region like Louisiana/Mississippi be a part of the solution for such a large problem? We believe the real question is, how can we not? 

Our first regional conference, March 10-11, 2017, in New Orleans, presents a perfect opportunity to take active steps. We are making promotion of diversity a key ingredient in our recipe for the conference. First, we are offering a diversity scholarship. The conference scholarship is open to all Louisiana or Mississippi writers from diverse backgrounds who are not traditionally published. Submission deadline is January 10, 2017. (Details here.Our keynote speaker Cheryl Klein (Arthur Levine/Scholastic) has agreed to select the winner. We view our scholarship as not only supportive to the diverse writer who receives it, but as our public statement to kidlit writers in our region. We are here. We support diverse voices. We want to assist you on your path to publication.

Click here for all the JambaLAya Kitdlit Conference info

Then the universe sent us Angie Thomas. The publishing world is abuzz about her YA debut The Hate U Give (release date 2/2017), inspired by the Black Lives Matter Movement. She lives in Jackson, Mississippi, less than three hours from our conference venue in New Orleans. Starred reviews are pouring in, and a movie is in the works. Our ARA Sarah Campbell approached Angie, asked her to speak at our conference, and she accepted. We are over the moon excited about that.

author Angie Thomas

Angie’s phenomenal publishing success for her novel that throws a spotlight on one of the most important civil rights issues in many, many years, is hopefully an inspiration to other writers from diverse backgrounds. As a region, we hope that Angie’s presence at our conference will also be a draw to those writers. We, as SCBWI Regional Teams, may not be the gatekeepers to the industry. But we can certainly help writers and illustrators from diverse backgrounds find their way to the door.  
SCBWI is well-known as a nurturing environment for all kidlit writers and illustrators – indie, traditionally published, and pre-published. Our conference will be a jambalaya-potful of all that. That’s why we named it JambaLAya because it is so representative of our region. The word has French and African origins and it’s based on a Spanish dish! The ingredients can include any of a range of different meats and seafood. Any combination works. And then there’s the assortment of seasoning. No two pots are exactly alike. 

Jambalaya wouldn’t be jambalaya without diversity! We know the years of exclusion cannot be remedied by one conference, but it’s our start. We will continue to seek diverse writers and editors and illustrators and agents to be a part of our conference faculty. And we will keep the diversity scholarship until it’s no longer necessary. What a wonderful world that would be.

-Cheryl Mathis, Regional Advisor Louisiana/Mississippi SCBWI

Apply for the Diversity Scholarship here, and find out all the information about the 2017 JambaLAya Kid Lit Conference here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Seven things "Best of" Lists can teach us

We are awash in "best books" lists this time of year. NPR's Book Concierge Guide to 2016's Great Reads. The New York Times Notable Children's Books of 2016. The Association of Library Service To Children's Notable Children's Books 2016. I could go on and on and on (but I won't... And heck, if you're reading this, and you want more, you have an internet connection. Go for it.)

Amid all the list-reading, I decided to work out what we can learn from and do with these lists. I've come up with seven, but feel free to add your additional ideas in comments.

And without further ado, here's my list of what to do with these lists:

1. Play the game - a "best of" list is a scorecard of sorts, where we get to ask ourselves, how many of these have I read? The more you read, and liked, on a list, the smarter that list's judging committee. Or isn't that obvious?

2. Play the other game - how many of the authors and illustrators of those books have you met and/or seen speak at an SCBWI conference or book signing?

3. A "best of" list can suggest books we haven't read yet that we simply must check out, helping us build our personal "to read" list.

4. A "best of" list can be aspirational. Are there qualities in the selected books that you see in your own work? As you shape and craft your current work-in-progress, what qualities would have you place it on a "best of" list?

5. It's inspiration to look back on our year of reading and create our own "Best Of" list. What books do we still remember? What books still move us, weeks (or months) after reading them?

6. A reminder that the value of what we create is not solely determined by best of (or best-seller, or award) lists. The value of our work is determined in many ways, including our personal satisfaction with what we've created, the impact on a single reader, the conversations our work sparks... success of our endeavors has many, many definitions, and we can't fall into the fame-or-nothing mindset trap. Creative value is more interesting (and nuanced and complex) than that.

7. The differences between the many lists should remind (and re-assure) us that this is all subjective – and maybe everyone shouldn't take these lists so seriously. But having said that, being included on a "best of" list is absolutely something to celebrate.

Cheers to everyone on a "Best Of" list - even if it's a list of our own design!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Are you all FOMO about #NY17SCBWI? You can still join us!

Okay, FOMO stands for "Fear of Missing Out" (if you didn't know that, don't worry about it - we're always learning, and I just learned it this week. Now we both know it!)

The SCBWI Winter Conference is on track to sell out again in 2017. You don't have to miss out, but if you're interested in the intensives or the portfolio showcase, you need to act fast!

There are only 25 spots left in the Writers Roundtable.

There are only 2 spots left in the Professional Authors Forum.

The portfolio showcase is SOLD OUT (and a waiting list has started) but...

and here's the cool work-around,

there are still 28 spots for the illustrator's intensive. And if you sign up for the illustrator's intensive, you automatically get a reserved spot in the portfolio showcase.

#NY17SCBWI is going to be epic. We hope you'll join us. Find all the conference information here.

Illustrate and Write On!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Ever thought about writing merchandise tie-ins?

The brilliant Cynthia Leitich Smith hosts author Danica Davidson on the Cynsations blog, with Danica's story of writing Minecraft and Barbie tie-ins. (How Danica went from a "Tales From The Crypt" writing sample to being hired to write "Barbie's Puppy Party" is wild!)

Check out Danica's guest post here, and see if writing merchandise tie-ins is something you're interested in doing...

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Voice - a fun exercise that almost looks like procrastination (but isn't)

First, choose a song that's pretty popular. Our example will be singer-songwriter Barrett Strong's "I heard it through the grapevine." Treat yourself to the version you're familiar with

I like this live performance by Marvin Gaye, who made the song famous

Now, go to youtube and do a search for that song - but don't go right to that same version. Try to find different versions, other artists who made the song their own, who let you hear the song anew. Which ones feel "karaoke," and which ones feel original?

It's the same song, but different approaches, different arrangements, different voices make each unique (or not...)

Here's a sampling of some of the videos I found of "Heard It Through The Grapevine"

Gladys Knight and the Pips:

 Creedence Clearwater Revival:

John Legend:

Fantasia Barrino:

 Leo Moracchioli:

 Donna Summer:

 The Slits:

Ella Fitzgerald:


Birds of Tokyo:

 Now, think about the story you're working on. What are you bringing to the story that's uniquely YOU? How is what you're creating more than 'karakoe?" The answer... that's your voice.

Illustrate and Write On!