Thursday, March 29, 2012

Golden Kite Award Interviews: Ruta Sepetys (Winner for Fiction for "Between Shades Of Gray")

Ruta Sepetys won the 2012 Golden Kite Award for Fiction for her debut novel, "Between Shades Of Gray."

Lee:  "Between Shades of Gray" is your debut novel - and when a debut novelist gets huge awards and accolades for a work that is really brilliant, like yours, there's this myth of it being an "overnight success". Other writers can hear the news and feel, 'It's probably the first draft of the first book Ruta ever tried to write, and it came out perfect.' Is that your story?

Ruta:  Oh my gosh, no overnight success here and nothing was perfect. It took several years, dozens of drafts, 17 rounds of revision, many rejections. I lost an agent. I lost an editor. I lost my confidence. I considered flinging myself off of a building. My critique group talked me off the ledge. The pub date was moved. I got a new editor who requested difficult revisions. The little voice inside my head began to taunt me, saying I'd never be able to do it. Are you seeing a pattern? It was so damn hard.

Lee:  Five years ago, In 2007, you won the SCBWI Work-In-Progress grant - was that for "Between Shades of Gray?" How did the grant help?

Ruta:  Yes! It was for "Between Shades of Gray." It helped in so many ways. At the time, I was so discouraged and winning the grant gave me hope that maybe, just maybe, I didn't suck. Arthur Levine was one of the judges that year and he sent me a beautiful, congratulatory email. I still have it. That email and the grant gave me the courage and energy to finish the book. And then, after millions of revisions when my agent shopped the book, we were able to say that it had won the Work-In-Progress grant!

Lee:  There is so much description of Lina's art throughout the novel - was there ever discussion of making this an illustrated novel in some way?

Ruta:  Yes, some of the international publishers wanted to include illustrations in their versions of the book. But we found that everyone had different ideas of what Lina's art might look like so we decided to leave it up to the reader to imagine the art.

Lee:  Tackling a giant moment in history that no one really knows much about - Stalin's cleansing of the Baltic region - seems so overwhelming. How did you focus in on the story you wanted to tell, and find the balance of on the one hand creating characters people would love with on the other hand including all the challenges happening to those characters that mirror the true life horrors people experienced?

Ruta:  I chose to focus on the group of people who were deported to the Arctic because their experience was so harrowing and really emphasized the power of the human spirit to transcend occupation. Balancing the hope and horror was much more difficult. I owe that balance to my editor, Tamra Tuller at Philomel. When she got the book it was definitely heavy on the horror and light on the hope. Although I love dark stories that leave me sad for days, Tamra explained that most readers do not. She helped me level out some of the horror and amplify the elements of hope.

Lee:  I'm curious to find out more about how you struck a balance between Dark and Light, Despair and Hope, Evil and Love throughout the book. Not to spoil anything for those who haven't read it yet, but in some of the darkest moments, Lina finds a shred of light, and it lets us as readers breathe again. Tell us more about that.

Ruta:  When I interviewed survivors, they explained that they found hope in small things–a shiny rock, a pretty melody, or a funny story from home. Those small things created glimmers of light between endless bands of gray and sometimes gave them the will to fight for one more day of survival. They found beauty in each breath and somehow used their suffering as a spiritual teacher. That inspired me and I wanted to include those elements in the book. The Soviets took their flag, they took their language, they took their country, but they couldn't take their spirit.

Lee:  First page, first lines - yours is brilliant. Did the story always start in this way?

Ruta:  Thank you! Yes, the first line was always, "They took me in my nightgown." It was the first line I wrote and it stuck.

Here's the opening of "Between Shades Of Gray"

thieves and prostitutes 


Thinking back, the signs were there--family photos burned in the fireplace, Mother sewing her best silver and jewelry into the lining of her coat late at night, and Papa not returning from work. My younger brother, Jonas, was asking questions. I asked questions, too, but perhaps I refused to acknowledge the signs. Only later did I realize that Mother and Father intended we escape. We did not escape.

We were taken. 

Lee:  Do you have hopes for this book in terms of how history is taught, or for it to be used in schools?

Ruta:  My dream is that teachers and librarians might use the book to open the door– to study Stalin and the other side of WWII.

Lee:  Can you tell us about what you're working on next?

Ruta:  My next novel, OUT OF THE EASY, is finished and will be published by Philomel in spring of 2013. It's set in post-war New Orleans in 1950 and follows the daughter of a French Quarter prostitute who is trying to get into a prestigious East Coast college but gets tangled in a murder investigation. It's sort of "Good Will Hunting" meets "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" a brothel. Ha! But seriously–it's about decisions and how we learn to fly when we're born with broken wings.

Lee:  What's the best piece of career advice you've received that you can share with us?

Ruta:  Several years ago at the SCBWI LA conference I attended a session with Walter Dean Myers. He shared two pieces of writing advice that I swear by: 1.) Don't wait for the muse to come. Sit down and immediately start writing. Write something, anything, even if it's crap. Just let the words sputter out and after several minutes of writing non-stop you'll find a groove. 2.) Don't be afraid to change gears and write something else. I was originally trying to sell a middle-grade mystery. After reading a few pages of "Between Shades of Gray" an agent told me to put aside the middle-grade book. There were a few editors that had requested the middle-grade novel. But the agent explained that my middle-grade novel was derivative but "Between Shades of Gray" showcased my authentic voice. I'm so glad I took the agent's advice!

Lee:  Congratulations on your award - it will be great to hear you speak at the Golden Kite Luncheon at this Summer's SCBWI Conference in Los Angeles.

Ruta:  Thank you so much, Lee! And thank you to everyone at SCBWI. Bottom line - I am a published author because of SCBWI!

You can find out more about Ruta and her books at her website here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sneak Peek at the 2012 SCBWI Summer Conference!

Get ready for an unforgettable experience with the very best in the field of children's literature!
Whether you are an author or illustrator, published or unpublished, create picture books or young adult novels, you won't want to miss the 2012 SCBWI Summer Conference.

Over a jam-packed weekend you'll hear from top agents and editors on the state of the market, get inspired by award-winning authors and illustrators, discuss how to progress your career in small, targeted breakout workshops, connect with old friends and meet new ones!

Speakers Will Include:

Award-winning illustrator Jon Klassen

Caldecott honor book illustrator  Bryan Collier   

Newbery Medal-winning author  Karen Cushman

Author/illustrator of The Spiderwick Chronicles and Caldecott Honor recipient  Tony DiTerlizzi

Award-winning author Dan Gutman

Author and editor Deborah Halverson

Newbery Medal-winner  Patricia MacLachlan

Author of the Pretty Little Liars and Lying Game Series  Sara Shepard

Award-winning (including the Golden Kite Award) author  Ruta Sepetys

Illustrator and Newbery Honor-Winner  
Eugene Yelchin

PLUS a host of editors and agents discussing the industry from publishing houses and literary agencies including: HarperCollins, Penguin Young Readers Group, Writer's House, Simon and Schuster, Abrams, Random House and more.

With your registration you get:

Access to all conference keynotes and workshops
The Gala Party on Saturday night (includes dinner and a drink ticket)
Ticket to the Golden Kite Luncheon on Sunday
Attendance to the Friday night Portfolio Showcase and cocktail party
Chance to sell your books at the PAL book sale on Friday (some restrictions apply)
Tea and coffee each morning
Free wireless in your room

For an extra special weekend you can also register for:

A Manuscript or Portfolio Consultation
The Juried Portfolio Showcase
Two of the post-conference intensive workshops such as: Writing for Illustrators (full day); 9 Agents, One Morning/Afternoon; First Pages; Independent Publishing; Spitshine: Polishing Your Novel; Developing Your Hook; Writing Picture Books; Revising Your MG/YA Novel and more!

Registration opens on April 18th at 10am PDT.  This conference typically sells out so don't delay!

Highlights from the 2011 Summer Conference:

From Publisher's Weekly

SCBWI Photo Gallery

General Information:

Conference Tuition:

Tuition includes all conference workshops & events (excluding consultations and showcases) from Friday - Sunday, August 3-5, 2012, including the dinner dance on Saturday night and the Golden Kite luncheon on Sunday. Tuition does not include the Post-Conference Intensive on Monday, August 6.

Early Registration (Before June 15th):

$440 - SCBWI Member Registration

$540 - Non-member Registration

Regular Registration (After June 15th):

$460 - SCBWI Member Registration

$560- Non-Member Registration

Intensives and Extras:

$100 Individual Manuscript or Portfolio Consultation

$50 Portfolio Entry in Juried Showcase

(Full day of programming on Monday, August 6th)
$200 -  Post-Conference Intensive for Writers
$200 -  Post-Conference Intensive for Illustrators 

Venue Information:

Hyatt Regency Century Plaza

2025 Avenue of the Stars
Los Angeles, CA 90067
(800) 233-1234
(310) 228-1234

Conference attendees get a special room rate of $199
 (Valid until June 1)

How to register:

You can register online at or by phone (323-782-1010) starting April 18th.  You must be a current SCBWI member at the time of registration and the conference to be eligible for the member's discount.

Full conference schedule and more details will be available in early April.

Can't attend? Follow the action virtually!

SCBWI Conference Blog

In the weeks leading up to the conference, we'll feature interviews with our prestigious faculty so that you can know what to expect and look forward to. Click on the link above to see pictures and video as well as recaps of every workshop, keynote address, panel and intensive at our semi-annual SCBWI International Conferences.

On twitter!

Our speakers, attendees and bloggers will be tweeting! Follow us and the hash tag #SCBWI to get the latest conference tweets!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The 2012 Golden Kite Award Interviews: Melissa Sweet (Picture Book Illustration for BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY)

Melissa Sweet is the winner of the 2012 Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Illustration for a picture book that she illustrated and wrote, "Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade."

Melissa working in her studio

Lee: Hi Melissa, thanks so much for taking the time!

Melissa: You are welcome!

Lee: As a writer/illustrator, can you tell us how "Balloons Over Broadway" evolved - did you start with the words, or sketches?

Melissa: That's a great question. I talk about this with kids all the time--which comes first? This particular project came out of a casual conversation about Tony Sarg, (the man who invented the parade balloons). He was a brilliant illustrator and artist and from the start of my research I wondered how I was going to pull this off. Would I use Sarg's art to illustrate the book? How could I make a book feel like him, yet not BE him. A daunting thought! So I wrote a bit trying to piece his life together and when I got stuck on the writing, or just weary of it, I made art. That kept it fresh and exciting. There were so many ways I could've done this book, but in creating toys, puppets and three dimensional objects, I became more informed about who he was as a marionette maker. In this case, doing both writing and illustrating simultaneously was really important.

The interior title page spread

Lee: You used so many techniques and styles in the book (graphic novel-esque drawings, cartoon style, photography, collage...) Were there multiple versions of certain pages, where you experimented with how to tell pieces of the story?
Melissa: Yes, finding the right materials is a big part of making a book like this. I try to limit my options and choose ways of telling the story that are repeated as design elements so the materials feel cohesive. In the end, the book is just a fraction of all the things I made. It becomes a process of editing, just like in the writing. It's hard to not put in every cool thing I made, but it has to have purpose. I shoot for a spareness--just enough to enhance the story.

A jacket sketch that was edited out
Lee: Can you talk about some of the visual punches you used, like the full silhouette for the epiphany, and the flip-the-book-on-its-side moment for the big parade reveal?

Melissa: Sure.

Once I decided this book would use the Macy's parade as the vehicle to tell Tony's story, I thought the book should be horizontal in layout to give me big, wide spreads for the parade scenes.
one of those amazing parade scenes

But then there was a scene, a big moment of reckoning where I needed a parade balloon to be VERY high in the sky. I had an 'aha’ moment where I turned the book vertically (artists have successfully used this technique before in picture books) to get the height I needed to make my point.

The silhouette
With the silhouette, there is a moment in the book where Tony realizes how he can solve his design problem of getting his balloons off the ground, so to speak--no pun intended! This is a quiet, yet dynamic moment and I wanted it to feel momentous. Basically he had realized that if he took a marionette and turned it upside-down, (filling it with helium) he'd have the kind of puppet he wanted for the parade. I played around with this for a long time but could not get his expression to pack a punch. I decided to strip the page of color using a silhouette, which allowed his body language to say everything. Plus, since it was the only silhouette in the book, the difference made it very important visually.

Lee: It's fascinating to see deeper into your process, thanks! What’s your suggestion on approaching a picture book biography – how do you best figure out where to start the story and where to end it?

Melissa: This is the first one I've written, but I think the beauty of a picture book biography is that we can tell a snippet of someone's life or an anecdote and still give a very round picture of their life. I think that wherever it starts and ends should be very kid-friendly. Often the author’s note in the back matter can fill in the additional details we'd like kids to know. It's a very flexible and exciting format.

Lee: I think the notion of not thinking you have to tell someone's ENTIRE life story in a picture book biography is really liberating.

Melissa: I agree! As a kid I could hardly bear to read biographies. I found in writing BALLOONS I had to remember that what was riveting to me as an adult, may not be interesting to kids.

Lee: Did you feel extra pressure or scrutiny after winning the Caldecott Honor in 2008 for "A River Of Words," and if so, how did you get past it to keep creating your art?

Melissa: It was incredible to receive the Caldecott Honor. For the first couple of decades of making picture books I went along my merry way working hard and always trying to grow as an artist. After “A River of Words” came out the pressure I felt was self-imposed. That year was a big year and it did take a little time to get back to my rhythm and routine which I love more than anything. My life is pretty simple outside of the chaos of my studio!

Melissa's studio looking rather organized
and fun!
Lee: How long have you been a member of SCBWI? Can you share how that's helped you on your career journey?

Melissa: I actually cannot recall, but I think it's been more than a decade.

Lee: *checking* My SCBWI sources (thanks, Liz!) tell me you actually joined in 1988!

Melissa: really? '88, yikes! where did 25 years go?!

I always dive into the Bulletin and learn what is happening all over the map, about new books, new authors and the industry. This is a very solitary work for many of us and I appreciate all that SCBWI does to keep us connected.

Many aspiring authors and illustrators contact me about getting started and to a person, I recommend them joining the SCBWI as the place to get accurate and up to date information--they can answer all your questions! I always tell them, if you're serious, go to an SCBWI conference.

Lee: Final question: Any advice you'd like to share with aspiring illustrators?

Melissa: Everyone always says, keep going, don't give up and I really believe persistence is as important as talent. By continuing to work we keep honing our skills and that's what there is to do. You have to go into the studio whether you feel like it or not. Inspiration and ideas generally happen inside of working, or playing-- call it whatever we want--but make sure you're having fun in the process.

Lee: Thank you so much, Melissa. And congratulations again on your Golden Kite Award for picture book illustration for BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY!

Melissa: Thank YOU!

You can find out more about Melissa and her books at her website here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The SCBWI Bologna Showcase at The 2012 Bologna Children's Book Fair

Sara Rutenberg, SCBWI's Chief Operating Officer and National Conference Coordinator reports from the Bologna Children's Book Fair that they're "very busy at the SCBWI booth."

(That's in Hall 26, Stand A66.)

Sara shared that

"Illustrator Babette Cole was there today, and others stopped by.  The International Regional Advisors have done an extraordinary job organizing this.  Bruce Degen and Paul O. Zelinsky are dueling illustrators on Wednesday, each one using their own particular style to illustrate text."

The most important international event dedicated to the children's publishing and multimedia industry, this year's Bologna Children's Book Fair runs from yesterday, March 19th through Thursday, March 22nd, 2012.

SCBWI will be presenting members and regions from around the world. Free individualized portfolio reviews, first page reviews and industry consultations will be available as well.

You can find out more about the offerings and see the daily schedules here at the SCBWI Bologna website.

There's also a wonderful series of interviews with the people of the SCBWI Bologna Showcase at Cynthia Leitich Smith's remarkable Cynsations blog.  So far there have been interviews with

Caldecott Medal Winner (and three time Caldecott Honoree) Author-Illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky

2011 Sendak fellowship-winning Author-Illustrator Sergio Ruzzier

Children's Book Marketing Consultant Susan Raab

Former Art Director and now Author-Illustrator Bob Barner

Author-Illustrator Bruce Degen

and Sara Rutenberg (SCBWI's COO)

And there are more interviews slated to come - among them John Shelley, Serena Gedes, Sarah Towle, Erzsi Deak, Barbara McClintock and Chris Cheng!  (The interviews are coordinated by Angela Cerrito and the interviewers are active members on the international scene.)

So even if you're not in Italy, check out these great one-on-one discussions with kid lit luminaries and thought leaders...

And if you ARE at Bologna, swing by Hall 26, Stand A66 and say "Hi" to your fellow SCBWI tribe members!

Illustrate and Write On,

ps -  Be sure to check out the SCBWI Bologna Scrawl Crawl Blog - it's a crowd-sourced documentation of creativity and inspiration that's open to SCBWI members at the fair... and even those of us not in Bologna can contribute, as "Roving Scrawl Crawlers!"

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The 2012 Golden Kite Award Interviews: Kate Messner (Picture Book Text for "Over And Under The Snow")

Kate Messner is the winner of the 2012 Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Text for Over and Under The Snow.

Here's a peek at Kate's first few lines - an opening to a story that captivated her agent, her editor, the Golden Kite Award Picture Book Text Judges, and Readers everywhere:

Over the snow I glide.  Into woods, frosted fresh and white.
Over the snow, a flash of fur--a red squirrel disappears down a crack.
"Where did he go?"
"Under the snow," Dad says.  "Under the snow is a whole secret kingdom, where the smallest forest animals stay safe and warm.  You're skiing over them now."

Lee:  Hi Kate, thanks so much for finding the time to chat!  You were recently out in California as a speaker at this year's TED Conference in Long Beach - before I ask about Over and Under the Snow, I have to know - what was your TED talk on?

Kate: It was about imagination and world building - the video isn't posted online yet, but you can read a summary on the TED blog here.

Lee: A preview of your Golden Kite Award acceptance speech, perhaps?

Kate: Well, maybe not. My TED talk grew out of my latest book - a fast-paced futuristic weather novel called Eye Of The Storm.  Over and Under the Snow is a book that grew out of a different part of me - the part that needs to spend quiet time in the woods and wonder.

Lee: I like how you put that - how books grow out of different parts of ourselves. And in terms of "growing," your brief bio on the back flap of Over And Under The Snow says that you wrote the first draft "on a bumpy school bus, returning from a snowshoe field trip in the Adirondacks." What number draft ended up getting published?

Kate: I was just looking to see if I could find the answer to that buried on my hard drive.... I couldn't say for sure, but it wasn't the first or second or third or even eighth draft. It's funny - I did write the book on the back of an attendance sheet, back when I was teaching, and I'd been on a snowshoeing and animal tracking field trip with my 7th grade students in the Adirondacks. We'd spotted these tiny tracks that disappeared at the edge of a hole in the snow, and our guide whispered, "Look! There's been a visitor from the subnivean zone!" I fell in mad love with that word -- subnivean, which means under the snow -- and couldn't stop thinking about what was happening under my feet the whole rest of the trip. So that first draft came quickly - but I worked over many drafts of this book with my editor at Chronicle, Melissa Manlove, who pushed me to go beyond that initial sense of wonder and woods-magic to really look at connections between the world of the child and the world of the animals living beneath her skis.

Lee: The language you use in the book is so lyrical – do you think of picture book writing as similar to writing poetry or lyrics?

Kate: Very much so, and I am a poet at heart. When I was eleven, my family moved to the country, and there was this foot bridge out back that led over a creek to the woods. I used to sit out there with my notebook, writing poems about the rush of the water and the colors of the goldenrod. I loved choosing words and still do. And I think that's something that picture books and poetry have in common. Every word matters so much, and together they create a kind of music.

Lee: It makes me think of dance, how when it's really well done, it seems effortless!

Kate: Exactly! But in fact, I find picture books to be incredibly challenging to write. When I'm working on a novel and I feel stuck, I can always change gears and switch to a different chapter or scene. Picture books are so short - so concentrated - that their flaws are always staring you in the face as you write.

Lee: There is a very extensive author’s note (four pages!) with lots of additional information about “the secret kingdom under the snow” and the animals who live there. It’s like the non-fiction companion piece to the story. Was that always part of your vision for the book?

Kate: The author's note wasn't part of the original story, but it made perfect sense to me when my agent Jennifer Laughran and editor Melissa Manlove suggested that we include it. And I'm so glad that we did - so many teachers have told me that Over And Under The Snow has launched their classes into wonderful discussions and discoveries of what animals do in winter, and the nonfiction piece at the end has a lot to do with that.

Lee: You’ve published teen novels, a chapter book, and this is your second picture book. Do you have a master strategy of what you’re working on and what order you send out manuscripts in terms of aiming to build a following or a “brand” in one age-bracket or genre, or is it more about following your inspiration?

Kate: Oh...this is a hard question because I'm not a big fan of the word "brand." It makes me feel like Coke or Pepsi or something, and tying my whole identity to a product -- even when that product is books, which I love -- doesn't work for me. Here's the thing... When I signed with my literary agent, we had a long talk about the writing career that I hoped to have, and I shared with her that in my personal world, a literary role model looked more like Jane Yolen than Stephenie Meyer. That's not to take anything away from Meyer or other authors who have made their names with one kind of hugely successful book. In fact, J.K. Rowling wrote my favorite books of all time. But that's not who I am as a writer or as a person, and I knew that my writing career would need to honor all the different pieces of me if it was going to be a happy one. I'm interested in SO many different things, and I feel connected -- still -- to books that I read when I was four, and books that I read when I was nine, and books that I read when I was twelve. At my core, I'm a writer who needs to create different kinds of books for kids of different ages, and I'm so, so grateful that I've been able to do that. So no... other than writing the books that I have under contract to meet my deadlines, I don't write in order or to build a brand. I write for me and for kids. That said, my agent does offer me lots of guidance to make sure I don't get too scattered!

Lee: That's a great exercise for all of us writers, to consider who are our literary role models... It's also a pretty awesome segue to my next question, since SCBWI is where we get to meet so many of our literary role models! How long have you been a member of SCBWI? Can you share how that's helped you on your career journey?

Kate: Absolutely - I attended my first SCBWI Conference (New England) in 2007, several months before my first book came out from a tiny regional press. I was overwhelmed and clueless and completely star struck by the writers I saw when I got there. I'd been thinking about starting a blog, so I had been reading other writer blogs, and in the hallway, I recognized Loree Griffin Burns, who wrote Tracking Trash. I really wanted to say hello, so I took a deep breath and introduced myself and explained that I'd read her blog (a fact which floored her...I think most of us secretly believe we're only writing to our moms). Since then, Loree has become a critique partner as well as someone I count as a wonderful, true friend. And I think that's the greatest gift I've gotten from SCBWI. I've learned things at the workshops, for sure, and I've met some editors and agents. But for me, SCBWI has been less about making contacts than about making friends. I remember coming home from my first conference and sharing with my husband how incredible it had been. "These are my people," I told him. And they truly are. I have so many cherished friendships that started with hallway conversations at SCBWI conferences.

Lee: Yes, that sense of "tribe" is so important and powerful. You were instrumental in coordinating a lot of Skype Author visits - not just for yourself but for many other authors - for World Read Aloud Day 2012 just last week. Can you tell us how that went?

Kate: Oh, it was so much fun! From early morning to late in the day, you could watch the excitement from both authors and educators on Twitter. Things like "Just Skyped with some terrific third graders in Wisconsin!" or "Our students loved Skyping with @erindealey - such great ideas about writing!" As a former English teacher, I know how valuable and meaningful those real-world connections are for students, especially in this age of standardized testing. And for authors, it's so much fun, too - talking with kids is just the best.

Lee: That level of community involvement and organizing takes an enormous amount of time and energy. Beyond helping a great cause, are there benefits to being involved that other writers (and illustrators) for children and teens should consider?

Kate: Well, sure. Doing good work in the worlds that support your books (schools, libraries, independent bookstores) is the best kind of PR. I've seen so many authors & illustrators beating themselves up over what to do to promote this book or that book when really, so much of a title's success is out of our hands once the writing and illustrating is done. I think the best advice is to be connected -- have real conversations with people online -- and try to use your powers for good, however you can.

Lee: I love that: "try to use your powers for good, however you can." Like a superhero manifesto for all of us! My last question goes back to your Golden Kite win. What advice would you share with other writers who are working on picture books?

Kate: It's simple. If you want to write picture books, write them. Whether you are feeling inspired or not. Some of them will be awful, and this is okay. Don't send them out. Let them live their lives out quietly on your hard drive, and learn from them. Some of them will be good. Revise these. Work on them. Share them and get feedback. But if you don't make it a point to write picture books, you...won't write picture books. I learned this from my editor Melissa as we were talking down the hall of one of those big conferences...IRA or NCTE... a few years ago. I'd been lamenting the fact that for me, picture books either seemed to fall from the sky as gifts -- or not. And if they didn't, I couldn't really just sit down to write them. "Do you think most picture book authors feel that way?" I thought she'd say yes and validate my fatalistic little idea. But she didn't. She told me that most successful picture book authors she knew made it a point to try writing lots and lots of picture books -- bad ones, even -- and made it a point to come up with new ideas even when ideas didn't fall out of the sky. And then, as they did this, they got better and better at it. I nodded - and on the plane home from that conference, I sat for two hours and brainstormed picture book ideas. A dozen of them were rotten and awful and dumb. One of them wasn't, and Melissa bought it this fall. It was a great lesson for me and one that I'm happy to pass along.

Lee: Great story, and wonderful advice. Thanks, Kate. And Congratulations again on winning the Golden Kite Award for picture book text for Over And Under The Snow!

Kate: Thanks so much!!

You can find out more about Kate and her books at her website here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The 2012 Crystal Kite Members Choice Awards Round Two Voting Is Happening Now!

SCBWI members have until this Friday, March 16, 2012 to vote for the winning title in your region! 

Here's how you vote:

1.  Log onto

2.  Navigate to your regional home page

3.  Click on the Crystal Kite tab

4.  Click the button next to one of the shortlisted titles from your division to make your selection.

That's it!  

For the Official Crystal Kite Member Choice Award Guidelines, go here.

The authors and illustrators whose works have been nominated are not allowed to campaign, with the goal being that people should vote based on their personal opinion of which is the best of the short-listed works in their region.  So since you won't hear it from the authors and illustrators...

Go cast a vote for the 2012 Crystal Kite Member Choice Award from your region! 
Winners will be announced on April 30th.

Illustrate and Write... and Vote On!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Debut Authors Share The Things They've Learned From SCBWI: A Guest Post By Martha Brockenbrough

With SCBWI Team Blog Member Martha Brockenbrough's debut fiction novel coming out this year, she was inspired to share with us what being part of SCBWI has meant to her and her professional journey.  She also asked a number of other 2012 debut authors to share their best lessons from being part of SCBWI.

Here's her guest post:

Martha Brockenbrough

It’s been so long since I first started coming to SCBWI conferences that I can’t quite remember the year I joined, although I think it was in 2005.

I do remember, though, when I wrote my first picture book manuscript. My daughter was four months old at the time. This August, during the SCBWI national conference in Los Angeles, she’ll turn twelve. My first children’s book, a young adult novel called DEVINE INTERVENTION, will have just come out.

If you’d told me way back when that it would take me that long—eleven years!—to publish a book, I might have cried (and blamed it on the new-mother hormones). After all, I’d been working as a journalist and editor for a decade. I knew what I was doing, right?

No. No, I did not. And it was that notion that kept me from joining SCBWI for a few years. Who needed them? Also, I’m a complete introvert. The idea of leaving my house when I could be reading, writing, or removing my toddler from the dog food pail (where she was snacking) wasn’t all that appealing.

After my first conference, though, it rapidly became clear to me that I needed the SCBWI. I was beginning to learn how much I didn’t know. Over the years, I absolutely fell in love with my chapter and joined my advisory committee as a way of saying thanks for the support. Spending time with people who are serious about writing great books proved to be one of the best decisions I’d made.

Everyone’s path to publication is different, but during our winter conference, I asked a few of my fellow debut authors to talk about something great they’d learned through the SCBWI, because being part of this incredible organization is the one thing we all have in common.

Zoraida C√≥rdova, author of THE VICIOUS DEEP, 

Sourcebooks Fire, May 2012, an urban fantasy about the return of mermaids to Coney Island.

“This was my first SCBWI. The best thing I learned from the conference was to write the most honest story you can. Don't be apologetic over it. Your voice and characters will speak for themselves, not the market or its trends.” 

Anne Greenwood Brown, LIES BENEATH, 

Random House/Delacorte, June 12, a YA paranormal about a family of mermaids on Lake Superior who seek revenge against the man they blame for their mother's death.

“The best thing I learned at SCBWI were revision techniques taught by Cheryl Klein, the executive editor at Arthur A. Levine Books.”

(Learn more about these on Cheryl’s website.)

Kimberly Sabatini, TOUCHING THE SURFACE, 

Simon Pulse - Simon and Schuster, Fall 2012, a novel about a girl named Elliot, who’s died for the third time and now she's stuck in the afterlife until she can figure out what she needs to do to right her mistakes.

“The best thing I learned from SCBWI is that I will never cease to be inspired by the authors in my tribe. “

Ame Dyckman, BOY + BOT, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino; 

Knopf, April 10, 2012. Her picture book is a funny and sweet friendship story between a boy and a robot who find they're very much alike--despite the whole power switch thing.

“The most important thing I learned from SCBWI?  Don't be afraid to turn to the person next to you and say, "Hi!  I'm..."

Ame’s also got another book called TEA PARTY RULES, illustrated by Keith Campbell, coming from Viking in 2013.

Lenore Appelhans, author of LEVEL TWO, 

fall 2012, from Simon & Schuster, a YA novel about a girl reliving her memories in the safe space between heaven and earth until she’s broken out by a boy named Julian.

“I am not there this year, but I attended last year - and have a great success story.  I got an agent offer after presenting my picture book text at the writer's intensive.  I didn't end up signing with that agent, but with another a few days later.  By the end of March I had book deal for my first YA novel, and by the end of August I had a book deal for my first picture book (with my illustrator husband Daniel Jennewein). I’m immensely grateful to SCBWI!”

Lenore’s CHICK-O-SAURUS REX, a PB, is coming Spring 2013 from Simon & Schuster.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Some Excellent Advice for Kid Lit Writers and Illustrators On Where To Draw The Private/Public Line On Facebook, Twitter and in all Social Media

Jennifer Laughran, an Agent at Andrea Brown Literary, has a fantastic blog post at her "Jennifer Represents..." blog that you need to read: The Fine Art of Zipping it, or XYZ PDQ.  It's about what you should and probably shouldn't share in our new facebook/twitter/online world of social media.   Go read it and pop back so we can chat about it.

I'll wait.

Okay, now that you're back, let's do some self-examination.  Jennifer writes,

"...the tone of my social media reflects the tone of my work."

What's the tone of your facebook posts?  Your tweets?  Your blog?

What about the photos you post on facebook and your profile pictures across social media?  If a picture is worth 1,000 words, what does your profile pic say?

When I get a friend request from someone I don't know, if they're not wearing a shirt in their profile pic (guys or girls), I do not friend them back or accept the request.  No offense meant, but clearly, they're not there for the same reasons I am.

(An extension of this is that in places where you can, send a message with your friending request, explaining the connection, and showing your professional intent.  It's certainly something I appreciate.)

I'm online to be my public, professional self.  To have and contribute to great discussions about kid lit and diversity and ending bullying and GLBTQ equality ...and to gather with like-minded tribe members - writers, illustrators, agents, editors, publishers, art directors, librarians, teachers, parents and teens.

Why are you online?  Who's your audience?

As Jennifer writes with her inimitable wit,

...if you have a public account on which you are promoting your work for children, and you are friending/following readers, teachers, librarians and publishing professionals, use your dang noodle. And not THAT noodle, mister.

Think about it in terms of what Alexandra Penfold, Editor at Paula Wiseman Books at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, suggested in her panel at #NY12SCBWI:

"Google yourself and make sure it's what you want agents and editors to see with your submission."

Wise words.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, March 1, 2012

BREAKING NEWS: The 2012 Golden Kite Award Winners and the 2012 Sid Fleischman Award Winner!

The Golden Kite Awards are given each year to the most outstanding children’s books published during the previous year, and written or illustrated by members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Four panels of three judges each (one panel for each category, consisting of author or illustrator members of SCBWI whose own works are that of the category being judged), award the titles they feel exhibit excellence in writing or illustration, and that genuinely appeal to the interests and concerns of children.

This year's winners (for books published in 2011) are...


The 2012 Golden Kite Award For Fiction goes to "Between Shades Of Gray" by Ruta Sepetys (Philomel, Penguin Group USA)

Ruta Sepetys’ first novel, Between Shades of Gray tells the harrowing story of Lina, a young Lithuanian girl fighting for her life and the honor of her family during the Soviet cleansing of the Baltic region in 1941. The daughter of a Lithuanian refugee herself, Sepetys wrote this book in hopes of shedding light on the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives during this tragic time. Readers will be inspired by Lina’s strength of spirit and devotion to her family and moved by Sepetys’ heartfelt gift for storytelling.

The 2012 Golden Kite Award For Non-Fiction goes to "Amelia Lost: The Life And Disappearance Of Amelia Earhart" by Candace Fleming (Schwartz & Wade, Random House)

Alternating chapters between Amelia’s childhood and her life as a flyer, Fleming captures the drama and detail (Amelia liked to eat tomato soup while flying) of Earhart’s life with suspense and enthusiasm. Maps, handwritten notes and photos further highlight the remarkable journey of one of America’s most celebrated women.

The 2012 Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Text goes to "Over And Under The Snow" by Kate Messner, Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal (Chronicle Books)

Exploring the enchanted lives of animals that survive winter underground, Kate Messner’s vivid imageries and delicate prose glide us along a whimsical journey of a father and son as they ski through the forest and discover the hidden, sometimes secret existence of the animals that inhabit the cold season.

The 2012 Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Illustration goes to "Balloons Over Broadway" by Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin)

Using handmade toys and puppets, watercolor illustrations, and collages made from old books, found objects and fabrics, Caldecott Honoree Melissa Sweet’s charming images are fluently united to help tell the story of Tony Sarg, the original puppeteer of the Macy’s Day Parade.

The Golden Kite Awards will be presented to the winners on Sunday, August 5th at the Golden Kite Luncheon, the centerpiece event of SCBWI’s 41st Annual Conference on Writing and Illustrating for Children, taking place August 3-6, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.

Also presented at that Luncheon is The 2012 Sid Fleischman Award For Humor, for authors whose work exemplifies excellence in the genre of humor, a category so often overlooked by other award committees in children’s literature.

And the 2012 Sid Fleischman Award For Humor goes to "The Fourth Stall" by Chris Rylander (HarperCollins)

Imagination and quirk lend itself to this hilarious story of friendship and adventure as we follow two middle school boys who will stop at nothing to fix your problem and learn a few lessons along the way.

There are also four 2012 Golden Kite Honor Recipients:

For Fiction, "Words In The Dust" by Trent Reedy (Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic)

For Non-Fiction, "Mysterious Bones: The Story of Kennewick Man" by Katherine Kirkpatrick, Illustrated by Emma Stevenson (Holiday House)

For Picture Book Text: "These Hands" by Margaret H. Mason, Illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Houghton Mifflin Books For Children)

 For Picture Book Illustration: "Follow Me" By Tricia Tusa (Harcourt Children's Books)

Congratulations to all the winners!