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!