Thursday, December 31, 2015

Let's Give Groucho Marx The Last Word Of The Year...

“From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”
                                                                     -Groucho Marx

It was 1929 when this quip appeared on the book jacket of “Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge” by S. J. Perelman. Find out more about the quote at Quote Investigator.

Thanks, Groucho!

Groucho Marx, photo source here

And here's to a New Year where our stories get read... and still enjoyed!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

When What You Write Is "Emotionally Expensive"

I thought this PW piece by author Matt Sumell, "Why Writing Is So Hard" was acerbic, funny, and ultimately, hopeful.

With gems like:

" a writer who sometimes uses personal experience as a way into a story, it can and often does get complicated."

"Every story is different, and every story comes with its own specific difficulties, so every story also comes with its own specific anxiety and panic until it’s done. Only—as they say—it’s never done, just abandoned."

"But whatever I lacked in ability I made up for with a stubbornness that borders on diagnosable."


Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Can A Children's Book Change the World? Linda Sue Park's Amazing TED Talk

SCBWI Board Member and Newbery Award-Winning Author Linda Sue Park speaks at TEDx Beacon Street about how books provide practice at responding to the unfairness in life with both grace and grit, and how empathy for a book's characters can lead to engagement in ways that have significant impact in the real world.

 It's like a holiday gift to us all! Enjoy,

Find out more about Linda Sue Park and her books at her website here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

#NY16SCBWI - The Perfect Gift For Your Writing/Illustrating Career!

It's a weekend with the top editors, agents, art directors, authors and illustrators in the children's publishing world. The Annual Winter Conference in New York City is an excellent opportunity to learn, get inspired and network with others in the children's book industry.

The Conference Schedule is packed with


from William Joyce, Kate Messner, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Rainbow Rowell, Gary Schmidt, Linda Urban,  and Rita Williams-Garcia!


The Big Picture-Children's Publishing Now and in the Near Future

with Jon Anderson, Jean Feiwel, Mallory Loehr, Andrea Pappenheimer, and Megan Tingley

Acquisitions Today-Opportunities and Challenges

with Alessandra Balzer, Liz Bicknell, Ginger Clark, Sarah Davies, Alvina Ling, and Rubin Pfeffer

Breakout Sessions!

on picture books (text and art), middle grade fiction, nonfiction, revision, plotting your novel, series fiction, Young Adult fiction, creating teen characters, illustrating for middle grade, graphic novels and YA, writing for a diverse audience, writing a great query letter, working with an agent, building an effective portfolio and so much more!

There will also be an art browse, Gala Dinner, socials, presentation of the Tomie DePaola Award, the Jane Yolen Mid-list author grants and the Portfolio Showcase Awards, and an autograph session. Most of all, it's a deep dive into the inspiration, opportunity, craft, business and community that SCBWI offers.

You can find out more about the conference faculty here. And to find all the conference information, and to register, click here.

Happy Holidays, and we hope you'll join us at #NY16SCBWI!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

"Bombs Over Bikini" - The 2015 Crystal Kite Interview with Connie Goldsmith

In the California/Hawaii division, the 2015 Crystal Kite Award goes to "Bombs Over Bikini" by SCBWI North/Central California member Connie Goldsmith.

Author Connie Goldsmith

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

Connie: Bombs Over Bikini shows how the U.S. nuclear testing program in the Marshall Islands after World War II affected several once-pristine Pacific atolls, and how the resulting radiation impacted a two-thousand year old island culture. A story in the local newspaper described a reunion of the ‘radiation refugees’ and I knew I had to find out more. 

Attorney Jonathan M. Weisgall speaking for the Marshall Islanders before the U.S. House of Representatives said, “In the 12-year period from 1946-1958 . . . the U.S. conducted 67 atomic and hydrogen bomb tests. The total yield of the tests in the Marshall Islands was equivalent to 7,200 Hiroshima bombs. That works out to an average of more than 1.6 Hiroshima bombs per day for the 12-year nuclear testing program in the Marshalls.” 

Please take a look at the trailer that a group of 6th grade Sacramento filmmakers made. They found all the archival military film footage and added the special effects to produce an outstanding book trailer—the first they’d ever done.  

Lee: It's a great book trailer! How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you’ve gained by being a member?

Connie: I joined SCBWI in 1997 when I first started to write after leaving my full-time day job as an RN. In 1999, SCBWI selected my work in progress as runner-up for the WIP nonfiction grant. That manuscript went on to become my first book, “Lost in Death Valley: the true story of four families in California’s Gold Rush,” published by Millbrook Press (now part of Lerner) in 2001. 

SCBWI has been a major contributor to my writing career since the day I first joined. The professional and social contacts are amazing. Many of the writers and illustrators I’ve met over the past few years will be my friends forever. And SCBWI conferences are a good place to get up close and personal with agents and editors and art directors. 

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

Connie: Presumably, people reading this blog are SCBWI members, but if not, join immediately. Once you’ve gotten your feet wet, volunteer, volunteer, volunteer. Then, do a little more volunteering. All the time and effort you invest as a volunteer comes back to you double! It’s like an investment that’s guaranteed to only go up. 

Read in your genre—a lot! So many people new to children’s writing say they want to write a picture book (a very tricky task indeed). Broaden your horizons. Look at writing for children’s magazines. Review children’s books for your community newspapers. And especially, consider nonfiction. IMO, juvenile nonfiction is the place to be today. You are an expert at something—or you will be by the time you’ve researched a topic dear to your heart. Write a good book proposal, and turn it into a contract for your first (or fifteenth) book.  

Thanks, Connie!

You can learn out more about Connie at her website here.

And check out SCBWI North/Central California's events, newsletter and community at their online home here.

Congratulations to Connie for "Bombs Over Bikini" winning the 2015 Crystal Kite Award!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Science Fiction and Fantasy Worldbuilding: Timeline Adds Crucial Details – A Guest Post By Children's Book Author and Writing Teacher Darcy Pattison

One of the first tasks in revising my current WIP has been to nail down a firm time line for my story. When does all this stuff happen? I had it vaguely placed in the 21st century, but I didn’t want to nail it down specifically.

It’s the EveryMan problem. Some writers try to create an EveryMan, a character who can stand in for everyone and anyone. In doing so, though, they create a generic character who fails to engage the reader and becomes NoMan. To write something universal, you must do something that intuitively feels like a paradox: you must write one specific character. Only by doing this do you have a chance of letting the character live in the reader’s imagination in such a way that the character stands in for EveryMan (or EveryWoman).

I was making the same mistake with the timeline of my sff story. By refusing to set it in a specific time, I was going too generic.

Creating a TimeLine for Your SFF Story

However, I also see the wisdom of waiting till I finished the first draft to nail down the time line. It will mean, perhaps, that I have more revisions to do; however, I feel that it’s a strength to have this first draft done to see how the timeline extends into so many places.

How Old are Your Characters? One of the first things I’ve done is write out everyone’s birthday. The main villain was born in 1980, and his son–the minor villain–was born in 2013. That means the father was 33 years old when his son was born. It was his first child, so why so old? It make sense within this story because the father is a scientist who buries himself in his work and generally neglects his family. He didn’t marry till after he’d done a post-doc in volcanology, and after his son is born, he travels extensively for his work. This affects the father-son relationship! The timeline forced me to think about these aspects of character.

I also knew that the main character is 14. Okay. How old are his parents? A minimum of 30, but they could be as old as 50 or so. What made sense for their relationship?

World Events. Slotting characters into a personal time line also means they exist in the world at a particular time. If someone was born in 2001, for example, was it before or after the World Trade Center bombing? The world tilted on that day and it’s important to place your character in the context of world events.

But even in a wider context, I needed to place this science fiction story in the context of astronomer’s exploration of the universe. The Kepler Space Observatory was launched in 2009 to search for planets similar enough to Earth that humans could live on them. I had to consider the timeline of their findings, and make sure my characters and the plot were aligned with that.

Imagined Events. Only once these elements were in place did I try to place my imagined story elements. Science fiction is only believable when it fits into the established world. I had to make sure that the events were believable in the context of the real history of our world. That doesn’t mean that I can’t do crazy and wild things–science fiction can and does stretch the imagination. It does mean that the events need to be based on some bits of truth that will lend it credibility.

World building for fantasy or science fiction is crucial. Rules are set up that control the story world, and once set up, the story is stronger if you stick to those rules. The timeline–in this revision of the first draft–was a crucial thing for me to nail down, and it’s adding surprising depth to the story.

*  *  *

My thanks to Darcy for allowing me to reprint this blog post here.

Consider that 'the specific is universal' rule applies not just to characters and timelines, but also to other elements of our stories, like setting! 

And, could a timeline help you with whatever project you're currently working on, even if it's in another genre?

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

Thursday, December 10, 2015

"Pandemic" - The 2015 Crystal Kite Interview with Yvonne Ventresca

In the Atlantic division, the 2015 Crystal Kite Award goes to "Pandemic" by SCBWI New Jersey member Yvonne Ventresca.

Author Yvonne Ventresca

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

Yvonne: Pandemic is a young adult novel about an emotionally traumatized teenager struggling to survive a deadly bird flu outbreak. The story is more about the experience during the disaster than the aftermath. I found it interesting to think about not only the practical implications of a contagious disease, like potential food shortages, but also about how fear would change social interactions. Dire circumstances can bring out the best and the worst in people and I wanted to explore that in Pandemic. 

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

Yvonne: I’ve been an SCBWI member since about 2002 and over the years I’ve attended over 30 SCBWI-sponsored events. Besides the opportunity to meet industry professionals, SCBWI gave me the chance to interact with other writers and illustrators. Those peer connections, the energy from other creative people, the encouragement and friendship we offer each other—that’s been a huge benefit of SCBWI. 

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

Yvonne: Author Richard Bach said, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” Persistence is definitely key in this business. Pandemic was my debut YA novel, but it was actually the fourth one I’d written. I received 151 rejections along the way to publication. It’s important to keep trying, because 152 may be your lucky number, too.

Lee: I love knowing that - thanks for sharing!

I also reached out to SCBWI New Jersey RA Leeza Hernandez to find out more about Yvonne and their region...

I met Yvonne when I first joined SCBWI back in the mid-2000s, and for as long as I can remember she has always been an active member—volunteering and participating in many of the varied events the New Jersey chapter has offered over the years—especially the summer conferences and fall craft weekends.

Her dedication to the craft (and to the chapter) is also evident through the workshops she has graciously given—from plotting strategies, to organizational pointers, to computer technology tips. Yvonne has always been kind and supportive to her fellow members and works diligently to hone her own skills, too.

We were thrilled when we found out Yvonne won the Crystal Kite for PANDEMIC. This award is much deserved and reinforces in such a positive way how much all her hard work and dedication has paid off. Congratulations Yvonne!

You can find out more about Yvonne at this website.

And learn more about SCBWI New Jersey here.

Congratulations again to Yvonne for "Pandemic" winning the 2015 Crystal Kite Award!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Success of Perseverance: A Guest Post by Rori Shay

Author Rori Shay

The Perseverance of Potter (no, not Harry Potter. Beatrix Potter!)

Below is my story of perseverance from the start of querying all the way to publication. It isn’t pretty. It’s messy and embarrassing, and if you didn’t love writing as much as all you SCBWI’ers did, it would surely scare you away from beginning the endeavor of publishing. You’ve been forewarned.

I’ll tell you my story of perseverance, and before you get to the end and think…well, sure she slaved away to get her book published, but it’s not like this Rori Shay is a household name or anything…then I’ll tell you about another author who you’ll be amazed spent WAY more time and brain cells trying to get their book published than I did. And perhaps their story may convince you that half of publishing a book is the perseverance you put into getting it out there into the world.

Alright, where was I? I started querying my mulan-inspired dystopian sci-fi trilogy at the beginning of 2012. I didn’t know the publishing industry. I just knew that I’d spent a good two years toiling over the first novel in the trilogy, and I wanted it read, gosh dang it. I didn’t know how to write a good query letter either…and that was apparent as I started contacting agents, telling them “if you loved the Hunger Games, you’ll love my book!” (Big mistake!)

Halfway through my year of querying, I joined SCBWI and got more professional about my approach. Within that first year, I queried 82 agents. I was told by others that I should query 300 agents! If my book wasn’t picked up by any of those agents, then I should shelve the book and work on something else. So when the 82nd agent said yes, I felt pretty good about it. I’m also one of those people who wrote a first book, queried it, didn’t get any interest after 100 rejections, put it aside, and wrote a second (the one I queried in this story.) Most of the authors I know have a book or two stashed somewhere that didn’t get published. Can you imagine? There are a whole breed of people who spend years writing a novel, and have to deal with knowing that it sits, untouched, unread, in a file folder somewhere.

So, anyway, I got a yes response from the 82nd agent! She was new to the industry, but so was I. I figured if she could take a chance on a new author, I could take a chance on her. She turned out to be a fantastic editor. She suggested things for my book and spent more time editing it with me than all of my future professional editors combined! But when it came time to querying, my new agent didn’t have the connections I’d expected. When the first offer came through for an e-book only with no advance, to a place I hadn’t know she was querying and that I’d never heard of, she recommended I take the offer. And unfortunately…unwisely…so stupidly…I did.

The authors and editors I met at that first publisher were great. I learned so much about promotion and the industry through them. Unfortunately, none of them…nope, not a one…it turned out, were getting paid by the publisher. When the editors and cover artists began realizing the promises of a payment weren’t coming to fruition, one-by-one, they left. It was still one month before my release date, and I didn’t see anything moving forward, but my agent said I had to stay with the publisher until they actually failed to complete the terms of my contract. So I waited. And a week before my release date, when I’d already had the plans for a book launch party underway and had told all my friends about the upcoming release of ELECTED, my publisher folded. Not only did it fold, but no one ever got paid, and fraud was discussed. The authors who were left all told me they’d stayed with the publisher for so long only because I had. Because I was the one with an agent, and if someone like me had stayed, they should, too. I had to laugh, because in all of this, we were all so confused and scared to talk to each other in fear of offending the publisher. Once the pub folded, information flowed through us author-colleagues like butter, and I ended up learning much more about the industry.

My ideas for a release of my book that year started to dwindle, but I kept my head up and discussed it with my agent. We would put out twenty more queries. If those didn’t work, I’d self-publish. I was ok with this idea, actually, and I had high hopes that in the last year my agent had gained much more knowledge about the industry that she could use to sell my book.

But then, a week later, as if my luck with my book couldn’t get worse, my agent called and told me she was leaving the industry. My book would still be repped by the parent agency, though. So I waited expectantly for the owner of the agency to contact me, and when she didn’t, I messaged her. We agreed to talk. My ears were pricked at this point, listening for any falsehoods. I was that scalded by my publishing experience so far. So when I finally got the agency head on the phone and she didn’t sound enthusiastic about my book, not even remembering who I was, I decided to sever that tie.

So here I was. No agent. No agency. No publisher. A blog tour with 150 people who I had to now give my regrets to. And a restaurant where I’d already put down the payment for a release party.

At any moment there, I bet you’re waiting for me to say I put the book aside. That I wrote a new book entirely. That I shelved this one on top of the first. Or maybe even stopped writing. It would have been easy to do any of those things. It looked like a hundred doors were slamming in my face, all at the same disturbing time.

But it’s the little things in life that sometimes make the most difference. Things you don’t even realize you’re doing are cogs in a greater wheel, and they can turn out to be the big turning points.

I’d arranged for four author friends to blurb my book, back when I had an agent and publisher. I called them after my publisher folded, saying I wouldn’t get to use their blurbs just yet. I tried not to sound pitiful. To hold back my tears and be professional. It was on one of these calls that one of the authors said, “I know a publisher who might want your already-edited, blog-tour ready book…”

And that was history. I spoke with the heads of that publisher the same week, and now The ELECTED Series has been released through the boutique sci-fi publisher Silence in the Library. So my sci-fi dystopian, ELECTED, is out there in the world, in hardback and paperback, in ebook, and with a book trailer. All out of nowhere. When I was least expecting it. ELECTED became an Amazon bestseller, for a period of time, even being placed among the top 100 sci-fi books next to Hugh Howey’s WOOL! And it got 25K reads on Wattpad in three months. Plus, there are fans! Fans that send fan art! Fans who talk to me about my characters Aloy, Vienne, and Griffin like they’re real people! Fans who say that the gender issues discussed in the novel helped them feel stronger!

Rori's debut YA novel

Now I have a new agent (a highly experienced one), and a couple more books in the hopper. My author career is still just starting out. It has been a rocky start, for sure. That’s why I love reading about big-time authors who’ve also persevered against rejections. I just finished reading a short biography and journal of Beatrix Potter. Yep, not Harry Potter. Beatrix Potter!

Did you know that Beatrix Potter was rejected by so many publishers, she decided to self-print 250 copies of Peter Rabbit just for her friends? It was sold in a few bookstores, and through word of mouth it gained popularity. Only then was it picked up by a traditional publisher.

In Beatrix Potter’s own words, here’s what she said about receiving rejections. Tuesday, March 13th, 1900:
Another rejection today for my “Tale of Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor’s Garden”. The publishers Frederick Warne and Co. seemed interested and I went today by appointment to meet Mr. Harold Warne. But he wants a bigger book, which I cannot do, and we had arguments. (It is odious to a shy person to be snubbed especially when the shy person happens to be right). If no one will accept the book as it is, I will get it printed myself. 

If she and the publishers only knew how important Beatrix Potter’s book would become in children’s literature! This year I took my kids to a Beatrix Potter-themed puppet show. It was so cool to see dozens of kids laughing along to the tales of the two bad mice, Jemimah Puddleduck, and Jeremy Fisher the frog. It’s over a hundred years later, and these stories still resonate with children. And to think even Beatrix Potter received her share of rejections. Unbelievable!

Makes you ponder: if you just keep going, plowing on ahead, getting more experience with your craft and trying new avenues, great things can happen. That if people like Beatrix Potter can bounce back after having their writing turned down, we all might have a chance too!

Rori Shay is a strategic management consultant living in the Seattle area with her family, black lab, and cat. In the writing world, Rori is primarily known for her science fiction trilogy, The Elected Series. She enjoys running, reading, snow-shoeing, pumpkin-picking, and right now… writing a new sci-fi novel! You can visit her website at

Thursday, December 3, 2015

"The Year Of The Rat" – The 2015 Crystal Kite Interview with Clare Furniss

IN the UK/Ireland division, the 2015 Crystal Kite Award goes to "The Year Of The Rat" by SCBWI British Isles member Clare Furniss.

Before the regular interview, I have to share the amazing video they've put together featuring the Crystal Kite finalists and the winner...

Author Clare Furniss

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

Clare: My book is "The Year of The Rat," a YA novel about sixteen year old Pearl, who is grieving for the loss of her mum in childbirth. Pearl’s baby sister - who she nicknames The Rat - survives, and the book tells the story of Pearl’s year as she struggles to come to terms with the loss of her mum and accept her baby sister. The problem is, her mum doesn’t really seem to want to leave Pearl… 

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

Clare: I’ve been involved with SCBWI for six years now and I have gained so much from being a member. I first met my agent, Catherine Clarke of Felicity Bryan Associates, at a SCBWI Agents Party. I’ve benefitted from inspiring talks and workshops at conferences and also had the support and encouragement of many fellow writers, published and unpublished. It’s a wonderful community to be part of.  

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

Clare: Persevere! Success can take a long time coming - it took me five years to write "The Year of The Rat!" It pays to be patient and stay determined. It’s not easy, but having a community of writers and illustrators around you is a massive help when you’re going through the hard times - and that stays true after you’re published too.

Thanks, Clare!

I also connected with SCBWI British Isles RA Natascha Biebow to find out more about their region:

The SCBWI British Isles region is the largest region outside the US and is now highly-regarded by British industry professionals. We run over 30 annual events around the country, including masterclasses, workshops, a PULSE programme for published members, two retreats, events at festivals such as the Edinburgh International Book Festival, critique groups and an annual two-day conference with an illustrator showcase (which later tours the country) and mass book launch party. You can find out more about the conference here.

Our region's online magazine blog, Words & Pictures, features new content every day with interviews, tips and discussions about the latest developments in publishing.

This year we are once again running our Undiscovered Voices competition, in which selected unpublished authors and illustrators are given the opportunity to be talent-spotted by industry professionals. From the four previous anthologies, Undiscovered Voices featured authors and illustrators have received publishing contracts for more than 120 books. The authors have been nominated for and won an amazing array of literary prizes: including the Carnegie Medal, Waterstone's Children's Book Prize, Branford Boase Award, Blue Peter Award, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, and over 30 regional awards. 

Learn more about Clare at this website here.

And find out more about SCBWI British Isles here.

Congratulations again to Clare for "The Year Of The Rat" winning the 2015 Crystal Kite Award!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The SCBWI Book Launch Parties Are Here! #SCBWIparty

Have you seen them?

The SCBWI online Book Launch Parties will appear on three times a year as a fresh and innovative way for SCBWI members to boost visibility and sales of their new books. And they launch today!

As SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver put it,

"Creating this Book Launch Party initiative is a radical step for SCBWI. The children's book martketplace is full of high-quality books that never achieve the success they deserve. The SCBWI will now include in our mission statement the goal of helping our members increase discoverability and sales of their work. Our community needs to come together to help all children's books, not just the high profile titles, find a way into the hands of readers."

For the inaugural launch, over 450 books published in 2015 have party pages up - you can browse and discover your next favorite title!

You can search for a particular author, illustrator or title, or look at just picture books, middle grade, young adult, nonfiction, resource books, Apps, board/novelty, leveled readers, or chapter books! The book parties are waiting for your likes and guest book comments...

And look for the hashtag #SCBWIparty on Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what's happening with the Book Launch Parties.

We'll be featuring a handful of book launch parties here on SCBWI: The Blog over the next few weeks, but you don't have to wait... Visit now and click into all the fun!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

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

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

Author Tara Dairman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Tara!

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

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

Learn more about Tara at her website here.

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

and cautionary tale...

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

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

Thursday, November 19, 2015

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

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

Author Jill Esbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Jill!

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

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

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

Learn more about Jill at her website here.

And you can find out more about SCBWI Iowa here.

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

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

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

Author Arundhati Venkatesh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Arundhati!

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

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2015

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

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

Author Varsha Bajaj

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Varsha!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks Vicki!

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Great Advice For Authors About Social Media

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

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

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

It's well-worth reading.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, November 5, 2015

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

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

Photo of Courtney Stevens by Jen & Chris Creed, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Courtney!

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

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

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

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

And discover more about SCBWI Midsouth here.

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

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

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

David McMullin 


Leap and the net will appear. So I leapt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My takeaways are many. Here are the highlights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 1, 2015

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

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

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

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

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, October 29, 2015

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

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

Author Kerry Cerra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Kerry!

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

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

Thanks Katy!

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

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

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

You can find out more about cover artist Katy here.

And find out lots more about SCBWI Florida here.

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Oliver Jeffers teaches us how to draw a penguin

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

Light source, yeah. Good point!

Check it out.

And you can visit Oliver's website here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, October 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Karen!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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